Over at Homebrewed there is a great guest post by Ken Alton , who blew us all away with his take on Bo’s John 3:17 challenge. There’s not room on the comment box there to post a full response, so I have pasted the post and my full comment below.
Did God send Jesus to die on a cross? Did God send Jesus to die for our sins?
My reaction is to say no. God sent Jesus to save us.
And I want to say that there was a possibility, even way back in biblical times, that Israel, responding in human freedom, could have realized just who this Messiah was and got behind and between and caught up in the kin-dom, such that all nations would have been drawn to that light, that human flourishing and the kin-dom be proclaimed to the ends of the earth without there being a cross in the story.
I want to say that even with the Sanhedrin being all caught up in shoring up their hierarchy and religiosity, then Pilate and Herod could have responded, in human freedom, to the invitation of God in their ears at that moment, to the invitation of God standing right in front of them, and set Jesus free, not only set him free but got behind and between and caught up in the kin-dom and taken it to the ends off the earth in a different way, also without there being a cross in the story.
Jesus could have lived to a ripe old age, teaching thousands of brew-babies brought to him from miles around, sitting on a swing hanging from a tree to fulfill the prophecy. And after he died in his sleep, God still could have raised him from the grave and the lesson of new life could have been learned, and the giving of the Spirit could all have happened without a cross.
If none of that was a real possibility on Christmas morning, then something is wrong in how I understand our human freedom to say yes to Sophia’s divine wisdom whispered in each and every ear. I know we live in a world where the cross did happen. Thank God that cross is not the end of the story. Maybe if we spent less time focused on Jesus having to die for us, we could open ourselves to being able to live into that kin-dom that is always coming near, so near that it is among us even now.
Tripp and I called it a ‘hat-trick’ and a ‘home-run’. What do you think?
I love this piece of theological imagination but I find it hard to imagine Jesus dying of a ripe old age in bed. If it wasn’t the conspiracy of Caiaphas and Pilate one Passover leading to a Roman cross, then perhaps one of the disciples would have killed him for his betrayal of their messianic hopes – giving Christians for centuries the symbol of the dagger and the phrase "for our sins he was stabbed in the back". Maybe a zealous proto-Pharisee like Saul of Tarsus would have stoned Jesus for blasphemy, so we all wear pebble necklaces in memory of the one who was stoned for us. Pushed off a cliff, a la Luke 4:29 "he took our fall…"
In all of these examples it is not to say that God or "Fate" had a death plan that was going to get Jesus one way or another, but more that the powers have their way of dealing with prophetic individuals, and it always ends in violent death (Gandhi, MLK jr, Romero …).
We know enough about Jesus to imagine that if the provocative acts on Palm Sunday and the demo in the Temple were not enough to make the powers snap into action to crush this annoyance, then there would have been something else, he wouldn’t have stopped there with his defiance of the unjust combination of imperial, religious and economic might, and with impudent humour and insightful critique there would have been more times when the local elders would have had him beaten up, or a Centurion would have had him flogged, leading eventually to a public discrediting of the rebel movement, the imprisonment and execution of its ringleaders, and potentially some legislative change to outlaw their customs.
All of this says a lot about how the world works and from which we could build up the same theology of the powers as we see in Paul and the evangelists. Of course we still know enough about God to realise that the community that suffered this setback, could still experience the resurrection event, and subsequently make sense of the violence and suffering of Jesus through the narrative frame of the Hebrew Scriptures.