Peter TeWinkle is substituting for Thomas Goodhart who unfortunately is responding to a case of gun violence within his own community this week. A husband and father to two terrific children, Peter is pastor of Hope Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is an ardent stiver for justice, humility, and a lower golf score.
Our community is awash in blood.
No, I’m not writing from Newtown, CT; though we share similar tragedies. You probably don’t know the names or the numbers, but their families shed the same kind of tears and harbor the same kind of hurt. The city of Grand Rapids suffered from 11 murders over the course of a majority of the year (not many by comparison, I know). But then came Dec. 14th and Dec. 15th and Dec. 17th and Dec. 20th and…6 murders in one week. It hasn’t stopped. Just last night another 18 year old was shot after answering a knock on his door.
The mentality is clear, “You must die so that I can live.” More and more I’m worried that this mentality is sanctioned (sanctified?) by our own view of the cross. Lent is still a few weeks away, but we’ll be wondering what it means to be “washed in Jesus’ blood.” We won’t be able to ignore our community, afraid of death and awash in blood.
Here’s a reformed view of the cross:
We believe that God– who is perfectly merciful and also very just– sent his Son to assume the nature in which the disobedience had been committed, in order to bear in it the punishment of sin by his most bitter passion and death.
So God made known his justice toward his Son, who was charged with our sin, and he poured out his goodness and mercy on us, who are guilty and worthy of damnation, giving to us his Son to die, by a most perfect love, and raising him to life for our justification, in order that by him we might have immortality and eternal life (Belgic Confession, Art. 20).
Q: Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favor?
A: God will have his justice satisfied: and therefore we must make this full satisfaction, either by ourselves, or by another (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 12).
The message is clear: someone must die. God will have his justice satisfied, but so will too many people today who feel wronged or offended and satisfied only with death. And, aren’t they just simply living in God’s image when they do? How can the cross be good news if it reflects the same impulse that causes so much pain in the streets outside our churches? How can it be salvation when the Savior requires the same satisfaction as those who need to be saved?
Maybe the answer is in the doctrine of the Trinity. Or, maybe the answer is in the blood. “For the life of the creature is in the blood…” – Lev. 17:11. Maybe it’s time to stop talking about sacrifice as a substitution and satisfaction and start considering it a sign and a seal. The prophets hated the sacrifice that was viewed as a substitute for right living. They despised those who felt satisfied offering an animal while sacrificing their neighbor.
So, if Jesus offered a true sacrifice it couldn’t be like that. It couldn’t be one that allowed the cycle of violence to continue because God was satisfied by the death of his Son. So, maybe Jesus didn’t satisfy a need for death, but instead offered a life; a life of compassion, sealed by his blood, a sign of his trust in God’s power over death. Jesus, and Jesus alone, could die because he knew that he would live.
“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” – Hebrews 12:4. And we haven’t resisted to that point because we are afraid of death. We believe the only way to defend ourselves is to use it ourselves. So, the only way for me to live is for you to die. The only way for me to thrive is for you to be sacrificed.
Our community is awash in blood. But it is the blood of substitution and satisfaction. It is the blood of death. Our community needs to be washed in His blood. The blood of compassion, a sign and a seal of devotion. It is the blood of life, even eternal life. Who will go?
What about those who are washed in Jesus’ blood, who are soaked in his life of faith and hope and love in the Spirit, who have been freed from their fear of death, who resist sin and contest sin even to the point of shedding their own blood because they have come to trust in God’s power over death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ?