The Necessity of the Crucifixion
I was recently watching the academy award winning 2000 movie “Gladiator” with Russell Crowe on TV. The basic plot is that the evil emperor of Rome had seized power ruthlessly by murdering his rivals and their families. The evil emperor keeps control of the people of Rome by entertaining them with the Gladiator games in the Coliseum. The more violent they are, the more entertaining they are. It also struck me that the reason I liked the movie, and the reason it was a blockbuster when it came out, was that it was full of action and violence. I found myself asking “What is wrong with us as a race of people?” I also began thinking of the current state of affairs in the twenty first century. We are trying to emerge from a terrible economic scandal in which our whole economic system, including the government, was involved in wholesale fraud (subprime mortgage crisis). Clear and obvious evidence is abundant, whistle blowers are available, hundreds of civil lawsuits have been settled with record payouts, yet to date not one single person has been charged or indicted criminally for fraud. We are early in 2012, but the mud slinging in politics, the sex scandals, and war atrocities have been abundant already. The blockbuster movie out now is “The Hunger Games” which is an apocalyptic story about a cruel tyrannical government that forces teenagers to compete every year in a ruthless “no holds barred” fight to the death match. It is all staged for national TV, and of course the more violence and death the higher the ratings. Is there really any wonder why we need an atonement to cleanse the human race?
Bounty Gate, Knockouts, and Cart offs
Years ago, the National Football League outlawed giving bonuses for big hits or special plays, but most teams ignored this prohibition thinking it was unenforceable, and excusing these “bonuses” as part of the game that everyone participates in. This situation really became relevant in the last three years when retired players have been suing the NFL for brain damage done because of big hits to the head. 120 NFL players have sued the league collectively in a class action lawsuit saying that the NFL did nothing to protect them from concussions. Doctors have proven that concussions have a cumulative effect and cause long term brain damage. Lawyers estimate that before all is said and done they will have over 1,000 plaintiffs in their case and it will cost the NFL billions.
In a scandal deemed Bounty Gate, Defensive coach Greg Williams, and head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints were suspended for instigating and managing a bonus program to pay bounties on big hits. Sean Payton was suspended for the entire year without pay estimated at $7.5 million. This is unprecedented in any sport. The New Orleans Saints were fined $500,000 and lost two second round draft picks. The NFL has iron clad evidence in writing as well as confessions. Today it was announced by the NFL that players who participated in “Bountygate” may be subject to criminal penalties. The excuses given so far are typical—boys will be boys, it’s part of the game, it’s a violent game, everybody was doing it, and my personal favorite “they knew the risks when they put on the uniform and ran on the field”. Really? With that logic, why not just take a Colt .45 onto the field and shoot people because it’s a “player beware game” and the hitman is not responsible.
Why such huge fines and sudden reaction over something that’s been investigated for three years? Combine the massive lawsuits, new fears of long term brain damage, clear evidence of the bounty program with the Saints brazen payoffs, and targeting specific star players like Bret Favre, Kurt Warner, and Cam Newton. During the playoffs the last three years, the saints have offered $3000 for “knockouts” and $4500 for “cart offs”. A knockout is exactly what it sounds like, and a cart off is the worst possible scenario where a player has to be loaded onto a stretcher and carted off the field. Think of the hypocrisy that every time someone is rendered unconscious on the field, all the players and coaches gather around acting concerned, but after the game they hand someone $4500 cash reward for crushing some victim. The NFL heard rumors of what was going on and made multiple inquiries. The coaches for the Saints repeatedly lied to the NFL for three years, and flagrantly continued their bonuses. Then on April 5, 2012 came the coup de grace. It was announced that the pre-game speech (before the San Francisco game) of defensive coach Greg Williams was recorded by a documentary film maker. The Saints coach was recorded offering cash to the man who struck the 49ers QB Alex Smith in the head. He instructed his players to target the key players on the 49ers’ heads, ankles, and knees. Repeatedly he yelled out, “Kill the head and the body will die.” This is all the more amazing since the NFL had warned them before their previous game and the San Francisco game not to offer bounties. Also, coach Payton and Williams had been interviewed by the NFL, and asked questions about bounties which they denied offering.
I have a confession to make—I love the violence of football. I love the big hits. I watch the big rivalries expecting people to hit harder and clobber people. The violence, big hits, and the danger is all part of why football is easily the most popular sport in America. It is the culture of football and we love it! I hate to tell you that whatever other college sport you enjoy, it is supported by the money made from football. No woman’s sport is a money maker, they are made possible by revenue from football. Again, is there really any wonder why we need an atonement to cleanse the human race? It is clear from the recording that Coach Greg Williams is the dastardly villain in this case, the evil Silas Legree. Now many of his peers are saying that everyone deserves a second chance so Williams should not be banned for life, but punish him severely and then let him come back. I think everyone would agree that in order for him to get a second chance, he must do penance, and atone for his sin. In my case, I think I have the perfect punishment. He was instructing his players to damage the ACL ligament of an opposing player, so the proper punishment would be to damage Coach William’s ligament. Then he can be operated on, go through a painful recovery for a year, and then get a second chance. Some of you would want less severe punishment, but with the exception of his mother, all would agree he must do something to atone for his lying, cheating, and outright assault before he could get a second chance. Therefore, the question remains—what punishment would atone for Greg William’s sin? This is the same question we should all be asking ourselves about the entire human race. What did God say in Genesis 2:17—“in the day that you disobey, you shall surely die”, and in Romans 6:23 we are told, “the wages of sin is death”. You may not think of yourself as Silas Legree, or Greg Williams, but you will surely admit the truth of Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Because Genesis 2:17 became true, God found it necessary to die in our place to atone for sin. It is either us or Him, there are no other choices.
The Necessity of the Atonement
Webster’s dictionary defines the atonement as “the reconciliation of God and man through the sacrificial death of Christ.” It is the satisfaction or reparation accomplished and paid for by Christ for the offense of mankind. I heard one preacher give a sermon on it and he said it means at-one-ment. That sounds good, but it is wrong. The result may be at one ment, but that is not what the atonement means. I did a word study on all the cases in the Bible the word atonement is used. It is used at least 78 times in the Old Testament, and the Hebrew word used that we translate atonement is “kippur”. This Hebrew word comes from the root word for “covering”, as covering over sins. In the Old Testament it meant a temporary covering until God provided a permanent solution. We know the O.T. atonements were incomplete because they had to do them every day as the author of Hebrews 10 said, “For the Law, since it was only a shadow of the good things to come and not the form, can never by the same sacrifices year by year which they offer continually make perfect those who draw near…and every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices which can never take away sins.”
I learned something new, which is that the word atonement is not really used in the New Testament. Theologians now use the word to convey “the entire work of Christ on the cross”. Everything the crucifixion and resurrection accomplished like forgiveness, justification, redemption, reconciliation, and propitiation falls under this concept of the atonement. In the King James Version they translate the Greek word for reconciliation as the atonement in Romans 5:11; 11:15, and in 2 Cor. 5:18-19, but no other English translation does that. All three verses are translated “reconciled” in the NASB, the Revised, and the NIV. Remember that in the New Testament it is not about atoning for specific sins, it is about atoning for sin as a state of being, as Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, and Galatians 3:22, “the whole world is a prisoner of sin”. You may not even be able to think of any specific sins you have committed, but the Bible says we are all apart of the human race that rebelled and has fallen under the penalty of sin. What you may not realize is that sin in thought, word, or deed is an abomination to the Lord.
Our view of the holiness of God and our view of the nature of man may decide how we personally understand the atonement. If we think God is sympathetic and indulgent, and man isn’t really too bad, then we may take the view that nothing needs to be done. Yet, the Bible’s view is that God is absolutely holy and righteous, and very demanding that we also be holy. Because of God’s view of righteousness, and His position as Creator and Ruler over all creation, God must administer perfect justice. At the same time, God’s perfect love moved Him to absolve man of guilt in a way that also establishes perfect justice. Christ died to satisfy a principle in the very nature of God the Father. There was a logical necessity for the atoning work of Christ on the cross because God required justice, yet a man had to die for man’s sin and it needed to be a sinless man to be a vicarious sacrifice; so God intervened with the incarnation (taking on the flesh). Sin left unpunished would leave God’s economy out of order.
You may ask, “Why doesn’t God simply forgive sins the way He commands us to forgive each other?” The answer is that God is not merely a private person who has been wronged. He is the official administrator of the judicial system. For God to remove or ignore the guilt of sin without requiring payment would destroy the very moral fiber of the universe. Since God is a person of infinite and perfect holiness, an offense against Him is much more serious than an offense against a sinful human. We are sinners forgiving sinners, but God is forgiving us to declare us righteous so we might be saved. Our forgiveness of each other is choosing to let it go and live in peace. God’s forgiveness declares us not guilty and admits us into His righteous presence.