We continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).
In this post we continue within chapter (11) on The Substitution.
Who would you say is the ‘blame’ for the cross? Who is ultimately responsible?
Towards the end of the chapter Rutledge asks key questions about the cross:
“Who is acting in the world to reconcile humanity to God and human beings to one another, and who is the active agent in the crucifixion of Jesus? These two question are related. Here in the context of the substitution motif, the matter of agency is critical. Who is in charge at Golgotha? Perhaps even more to the point, who is in charge in the Garden of Gethsemane?” (524)
There are several possible ways to answer such questions?
All human beings?
“Died he for me, who caused his pain? For me, who him to death pursued?” (Charles Wesley)
The Demonic Powers? Rutledge says some Feminist and also Anabaptist theologians have removed agency from God altogether and see it lying with the Powers.
Rutledge, however, argues this,
In the final analysis, however, the Gospels and the witness of Paul overwhelmingly testify to the primary action of God in the crucifixion of Christ. (525)
This is not to say the other actors do not have agency – but it is a secondary agency. God is the first cause
- His love
- His wrath (action against Sin, Death and the Powers)
Rutledge is insistent that, however many other influences,
“God did this for us without our assistance or cooperation.” (528, emphasis original)
Coming back to Romans 5:6-8 Rutledge stresses our utter helplessness:
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
[And I would want to add, the motive for the cross is the love of God, vs 8]
Our involvement in Substitution
But if substitution is due to God’s prior agency, Rutledge makes a wonderfully important point – is involves us ‘personally, emotionally, at the gut level.’ (529)
“Since he clearly did not deserve what happened to him, why is it not right to conclude that we should have been there instead of him? Is that not the most basic sort of human reaction? … The plain sense of the New Testament taken as a whole gives the strong impression that Jesus gave himself up to shame, spitting, scourging, and a degrading public death before the eyes of the whole world, not only for our sake, but also in our place.” (529, emphasis original)
What is your response to these words?
Ultimately, the cross is not a theory, it creates relationship. And if faith is real and experienced at all, sure these sorts of words describe what it means to be a Christian:
These are the consequences of the ‘sweetest exchange’ (Epistle to Diognetus, quoted by Rutledge, 530).