The Drama of Redemption
It is good if a dramatic film's script follows the Biblical Gospels--because the Word came from God; it was not a philosophy devised by men:
"Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:20-21).
"All Scripture is God-breathed [....]" (2 Timothy 3:16)
The Gospels, like the rest of the Bible, are history--real historical events that occurred in space and time. That is the rock-solid basis of the Christian faith. First-century Christians, knowing history, didn't have any need to "reinvent" religion: They had the truth of their own eyewitness testimony:
"We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.' We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain." (2 Peter 1:16-18)
And the Gospels are consistent in chronicling that Jesus was not executed for being a revolutionary against the Roman Empire; rather, His alleged "crime" was blasphemy: He affirmed that not only was He the Messiah, He was the Son of God (which was tantamount to saying He was equal with God--i.e., part of the Godhead).
Pertinent Gospel accounts include the following text:
"The high priest said to him, 'I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.'
"'Yes, it is as you say,' Jesus replied. 'But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.'
"Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, 'He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?'
"'He is worthy of death,' they answered." (Matthew 26:63-66)
"'If you are the Christ,' they said, 'tell us.'
"Jesus answered, 'If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.'
"They all asked, 'Are you then the Son of God?'
"He replied, 'You are right in saying I am.'
"Then they said, 'Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.'" (Luke 22:67-71)
"Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning [....] So Pilate came out to them and asked, 'What charges are you bringing against this man?'
"'If he were not a criminal,' they replied, 'we would not have handed him over to you.'
"Pilate said, 'Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.'
"'But we have no right to execute anyone,' the Jews objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.
"Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, 'Are you the king of the Jews?'
"'Is that your own idea,' Jesus asked, 'or did others talk to you about me?'
"'Am I a Jew?' Pilate replied. 'It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?'
"Jesus said, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.'
"'You are a king, then!' said Pilate.
"Jesus answered, 'You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.'
"'What is truth?' Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, 'I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release "the king of the Jews"?'
"They shouted back, 'No, not him! Give us Barabbas!' Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
"Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, 'Hail, king of the Jews!' And they struck him in the face.
"Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, 'Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him. When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, 'Here is the man!'
"As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, 'Crucify! Crucify!'
"But Pilate answered, 'You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.'
"The Jews insisted, 'We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.'" (John 18:28-40, 19:1-7)
The point is: Jesus was condemned for affirming that He was the Son of God--not for political reasons. In complete contrast to the statement made about Barabbas (that he "had taken part in a rebellion") was the statement made by Jesus ("'My kingdom is not of this world.'"). In fact, He probably said that statement in response to Pilate's question ("'What is it you have done?'") to let Pilate know that He had not done anything political or revolutionary. Indeed, Jesus clearly indicated, throughout His whole life, that His kingdom was nothing less than truth itself--or rather, it should be said, Truth Himself, for as God, He spoke only truth and knew all truth. His kingdom is comprised of His group of agents who come to know and follow God's truth as He did.
It is certainly reasonable to say that the Creator who created the universe, including humanity, could become a human if He so chose. Such a feat was certainly within the power of Someone who had created that humanity and all of matter and energy to begin with. The remaining factor was: Was it the Creator's will to do so? (And the answer is Yes.)
Why shouldn't the Creator choose to become a man if He so wished? To say otherwise is to dictate God's choices to Him. It is not for us to tell God what He can and cannot do. The only issue remaining is: Did He do it? And if He did it (as He assuredly did) as a matter of history, then Jesus' life on earth was a sequence of historical events, in real time and space.
The mind-boggling fact (almost beyond human comprehension) is that humanity's Author entered mankind's story as one of His own characters, like a playwright acting a part in his own play. The Sculptor created a body for His own Image, His own Wisdom, and placed Himself within the stream of time. He did this to save us--His own creations--just so He could later give us His own righteousness. He was His own masterpiece of redemption--the masterpiece to surpass all other artworks fashioned by the Lord of creation. To repair His ruined creations is His goal: Nothing less than complete restoration of the universe.
He came first, as His own display.
Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection was His drama of redemption--the crucial act opening the "church age" to be led by His group of people, who proclaim truth--a drama whose next act, at the end of the age, literally will be His return to earth, to reign as king of the world.
In the meantime, He continues to knock down man's idols, overturn our thieves' tables, and convict our hearts of sin. And His drama is universal: It applies to all mankind.
He was made into a spectacle before humans and angels: beaten and bloody, He was held up as an object of shame. But what mankind intended to be a shameful display, He turned into a powerful tribute to the honor and glory of His own Name.
He was nailed to a Roman cross, where His deity shone through the veil of His humanity, thus allowing the Roman soldier, and one of the thieves crucified beside Him, to recognize that He was, indeed, the Son of God.
Throughout the Old Testament, there had been the barrier of God's Law (God's justice) between the holy God and Lawbreaking man. (Even a single sin creates that barrier.) So symbolically, the veil in the ancient temple barred lawbreaking humanity's access to an absolutely just, perfect God. (People often fail to recognize that while God is infinitely loving, He is also infinitely just. He had to find a way to reconcile His love (His mercy) with His justice, and He found it: By paying the penalty for humanity's sin Himself: Since an infinitely perfect Person is the only one who can satisfy the demands of the Law's infinitely just requirement. The fact that He did so demonstrates His justice--a glorious act to vindicate a glorious trait. For God paid the price of His own justice, even when He didn't have to.
At his death, the veil of the temple ripped in two, opening humanity's access to mankind's Creator. This symbolized what had just occurred: Jesus had satisfied God's justice; it no longer stood in the way as a barrier between God and man anymore.
The earth quaked when He died. And even the hard human heart can break when it sees the power of God's display.
He wants to take us back! We don't have to fear Him: For mercy satisfied justice; that's the meaning of being "saved by grace".
Jesus told His followers before He died:
"'Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.' He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die." (John 12:31-33).
And Jesus won the victory over the world's spiritual prince ("the ruler of the kingdom of the air" (Ephesians 2:2), otherwise known as the devil.). Jesus let Himself be killed as part of God's plan. He fought by enduring eternal punishment, in his soul, somehow compressed into hours of time and space, so He could erase that sentence for all of us, if we so choose to let Him.
So history has a good cheer ending.
Jesus was resurrected, and afterwards, when He ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father, He commanded His freedom fighters left behind to continue and carry out His victory.
However, Christianity is not something it is necessary to fight for in the martial sense--because Christianity has already won, spiritually speaking, two thousand years ago. Jesus specifically said His kingdom was not of this world. And He set the course of history through His grant of freedom--knowledge of the truth about the Creator and the totality of His creation--to individuals who chose to know and accept that truth, throughout time--to people who choose to let Jesus transfer their sentence of eternal condemnation away from themselves and onto His own shoulders. Though He Himself was absolutely righteous and innocent, He has actually felt the guilt of our own sins.
So, whereas the Christian worldview may be considered "philosophical" in the sense of dealing with metaphysical or transcendent topics, often involving intellectual reasoning even to the highest degree (as the writings of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) amply demonstrate), the Christian worldview is not philosophical in the sense of being created by humans.
Perhaps the best explanation of Christ's agony was penned by Jonathan Edwards in a sermon of the same title, one of his finest. In it, Edwards described how Christ saw a preview of God's wrath even in the Garden of Gethsemane. And the knowledge of what it would be like to bear the fierce wrath for humanity's crimes against the absolute standard of God's justice was what made Jesus sweat blood and cry in agony of soul.
That alone should make anyone pause when they think about breaking the Divine Law.
Here are the words of Jonathan Edwards, excerpted from his truly amazing and thought-provoking discourse, Christ's Agony:
Christ, as he was a divine person, was the absolute sovereign of Heaven and earth, but yet he was the most wonderful instance of submission to God's sovereignty that ever was. When he had such a view of the terribleness of his last sufferings, and prayed if it were possible that that cup might pass from him, i.e., if there was not an absolute necessity of it in order to the salvation of sinners, yet it was with a perfect submission to the will of God. He adds, "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." He chose rather that the inclination of his human nature, which so much dreaded such exquisite torments, should be crossed, than that God's will should not take place. He delighted in the thought of God's will being done, and when he went and prayed the second time, he had nothing else to say but, "O my Father, if this cup may not pass from me except I drink it, thy will be done"--and so the third time.
What are such trials of submission as any of us sometimes have in the afflictions that we suffer in comparison of this? [***] [...] [H]ow ready are we to be discontented and impatient, when the innocent Son of God, who deserved no suffering, could quietly submit to sufferings inconceivably great, and say it over and over, God's will be done! When he was brought and set before that dreadful furnace of wrath into which he was to be cast, in order that he might look into it and have a full view of its fierceness, when his flesh shrank at it, and his nature was in such a conflict that his body was all covered with a sweat of blood falling in great drops to the ground, yet his soul quietly yielded that the will of God should be done, rather than the will or inclination of his human nature.
[***] What has been said on this subject also shows us the glory of Christ's obedience. Christ was subject to the moral law as Adam was, and he was also subject to the ceremonial and judicial laws of Moses, but the principal command that he had received of the Father was, that he should lay down his life; that he should voluntarily yield up himself to those terrible sufferings on the cross. To do this was his principal errand into the world, and doubtless the principal command that he received was about that which was the principal errand on which he was sent. The Father, when he sent him into the world, sent him with commands concerning what he should do in the world, and his chief command of all was about that which was the errand he was chiefly sent upon, which was to lay down his life. And therefore this command was the principal trial of his obedience.
It was the greatest trial of his obedience because it was by far the most difficult command; all the rest were easy in comparison of this. And the main trial that Christ had, whether he would obey this command, was in the time of his agony, for that was within an hour before he was apprehended in order to his sufferings, when he must either yield himself up to them, or fly from them. And then it was the first time that Christ had a full view of the difficulty of this command, which appeared so great as to cause that bloody sweat. Then was the conflict of weak human nature with the difficulty; then was the sore struggles and wrestling with the heavy trial he had, and then Christ got the victory over the temptation from the dread of [caused by] his human nature. His obedience held out through the conflict. [***]
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But yet he failed not, but got the victory over all, and performed that great act of obedience at that time to that same God that hid himself from him, and was showing his wrath to him for men's sins, which he must presently suffer. Nothing could move him away from his steadfast obedience to God, but he persisted in saying, "Thy will be done", expressing not only his submission, but his obedience--not only his compliance with the disposing will of God, but also with his preceptive will. God had given him this cup to drink, and had commanded him to drink it, and that was reason enough with him to drink it. Hence he says, at the conclusion of his agony, when Judas came with his band, "The cup which my Father giveth me to drink, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11).
Christ, at the time of his agony, had an inconceivably greater trial of obedience than any man or any angel ever had. How much was this trial of the obedience of the second Adam beyond the trial of the obedience of the first Adam! How light was our first father's temptation in comparison of this! And yet our first surety failed, and our second failed not, but obtained a glorious victory, and went and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Thus wonderful and glorious was the obedience of Christ, by which he wrought out righteousness for believers, and which obedience is imputed to them. No wonder that it is a sweet penalty sown, and that God stands ready to bestow Heaven as its reward on all that believe on him.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
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