One way to think about the cross is to ask the question: What problem does the cross solve? From the very beginning, the Bible declares that our predicament is so great that only God can resolve the problem.
The cross is God’s answer to two problems: the problem of sin and the problem of evil. These are our two major categories for our understanding of the cross. Each picture of atonement we will talk about in this series — each individual “golf club” to use our earlier metaphor — will explain the cross as either atonement for sin or as the place where God defeated the Powers (the spiritual forces of evil).
And both of these come together in this image of the Passover Lamb:
- In the temple tradition, the Passover Lamb came to be associated with the forgiveness of sins through the shedding of blood. This is what John the Baptist was referring to when he called Jesus the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
- But God also says in Exodus 12:12 that the Passover is His judgment upon the gods of Egypt. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God is engaging in the decisive act of spiritual warfare, to deliver us from the Powers of evil and darkness. Keep that in mind as we go through these next few weeks in this series — we will have more to say about that as we go.
Throughout Jewish history, the image of the Passover lamb became a statement of God’s covenant commitment to deal with guilt and sin.
We live in a culture that teaches us that the idea of “guilt” is antiquated — it’s a holdover from ancient times, something that is yet to be purged through evolutionary processes. Of course, secularism and humanism don’t have much room for guilt. Why feel guilty if there’s no such thing as God, if there’s no ultimate moral authority. So according to the gospel of our day, you can ignore your “guilt” because it’s a myth. There’s no such thing as “sin.” We’re told to embrace the liberating “theology” of #youdoyou.
But as much as we might try to deny our guilt, we can’t seem to ignore our shame. It’s always right there beneath the surface — have you noticed? As an intellectual concept, we might convince ourselves that “guilt” is no more real than the boogie man. But boy, are we covered in shame. Which seems to indicate to me that guilt is much more than simply a myth.
Wilfred McClay is a historian and a professor at the University of Oklahoma. As far as I can tell, he isn’t approaching this issue from a distinctly Christian point of view. McClay argues that our outrage culture is evidence of our need to escape the indictment of our guilty consciences. Have you noticed that people today will attempt to deny their own guilt only to rush to condemn others for the slightest “microagression?” You can’t have it both ways. You can’t bathe in the therapeutic rationalism that declares, “You’re not guilty. You do you.” and turn right around and start “cancelling” people and condemning them for their guilt. And yet, such inconsistency is a hallmark of our day.
In earlier times, God was recognized as the source of moral standards and, subsequently, as the one to pronounce final judgment. But as Joshua Chatraw points out in his powerful book, Telling a Better Story, by eliminating this supposedly “oppressive” doctrine, we have cut ourselves off from the traditional remedy for our guilt. Those who trust in God’s grace are assured that they have been justified in God’s eyes, which provides a true sense of relief from their guilt. But with no God and no substitutionary figure to atone for our sins, our culture has turned to its own type of “scapegoating” as a way of assuaging our guilt.
We’re always looking for someone to blame, which is why we dig up old Tweets and rush to cancel someone for their guilt.
It seems we innately seek someone or some people group to bear our collective guilt so we can feel free and innocent.
As McClay notes, this borrows from the religious paradigm, as we script “a story of people working out their salvation in fear and trembling.”
It seems pretty obvious that despite all of our efforts to cast aside the concept of “guilt,” we’re clearly haunted by it — which, if you ask me, is evidence of the reality of guilt after all.
And this is what the story of the Passover lamb is all about.
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!Hebrews 9:14