Redemption and Regeneration
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 31st: Job 13:13-19; Psalm 31:9-16; and Philippians 1:21-30. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is the sixth Lenten Friday, days of heightened solemnity during the already solemn Season of Lent. Fridays are times when we are called to especially meditate upon the meaning of the cross and of the crucified Saviour of us all. There are often two theological terms associated since early Christianity with the cross. One is more familiar than the other. The more familiar term is redemption. This is the theology that Jesus redeems us from our sins through His sacrificial death. Jesus paid the price for our sins by dying for us, in other words. I imagine this must have been an almost immediate theme of justification among believers who were struggling to explain the public execution of Jesus.
The three Synoptic Gospels present Jesus at the Last Supper on Passover, which means that the Passover lambs have already been sacrificed. A generation later John shares a different tradition. Jesus is on the cross a full day earlier than in the Synoptics as the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the Temple (cf. 19:14, 31,42). The Passover meal has not yet been eaten. For John’s theology this change is warranted. From the very beginning of his Gospel, Jesus is acclaimed by John the Baptist as he declares, “‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (1:29)
The blood of the Passover lamb in the Exodus story was smeared on the doorposts of the homes of the Hebrews in Egypt. The blood alerted the angel of death to “pass over” those homes as the rest of Egypt suffered through the death of their first born. The blood of the sacrificed lamb saved the people of God. It is not difficult to see the immediate connection between this well known and beloved tradition and Jesus on the cross. It must have been comforting and clarifying to equate Jesus’ death as sacrificial, as the perfect sin offering to God on the altar of the cross.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, Jesus is referred to as both the High Priest making the offering and as the offering itself: “This [Jesus] did once for all when he offered himself.” (7:27) Jesus the High Priest is the only biblical reference to a Christian priesthood. Those first Christians were confronted with the scandal of the cross and the theology of redemption akin to the Passover lamb was an obvious and dignified response. Jesus is both the singular High Priest and the perfect offering.
Another biblical theme resulting from the crucifixion is what is termed regeneration. The cross serves to regenerate us, renew and refresh us. The cross is not so much about taking away sins as it is about regenerating our spiritual selves. As one example, in Romans we read, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” (5:10) What this means is that the cross’ salvation is not through the death of Jesus in isolation. It is through the cross as the final statement of Jesus’ life’s ministry and message. We are “saved by his life” writes Paul, and the cross is not Jesus’ death per se, but the climactic, conclusive final act of Jesus’ life. We are reconciled by living like Jesus, by having our faith regenerated by such a love as is manifest by the life of Jesus including the end of that holy life on the cross.
There is much to ponder in the cross of Christ, its scandal and its sacredness, its forgiveness and its regeneration. And the cross is also a challenge and this is what we read today in Philippians: “For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.” How will the cross affect the way we live? I hope these six Lenten Fridays and all the other Lenten days as well have provided us the opportunities to think more deeply about what Jesus, and He crucified, means to us today, and also what it implies for how we live today.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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