During Passover the Jews recalled the time when their God acted dramatically breaking the power of Egypt and setting free his enslaved people. The people were liberated from the oppressive power of Egypt so that they were free for covenant relationship with their God. Later in their history the people were in bondage under Babylon rule and the Prophets spoke of a future redemption out of Babylon exile. However, the prophetic vision reached beyond the immediate rescue out of Babylonian bondage into a new covenant relationship with God in the messianic kingdom of peace and joy.
This prophetic vision was fulfilled in Jesus, the Father’s servant-son. And he chose Passover as the moment when he would accomplish the new exodus., He acted at Passover because he is God giving himself as THE Passover lamb through whom those under the oppression of alien powers are liberated into newness of life in joyful freedom. He moves to offer himself as the lamb slain to reclaim the world lost in utter distortion and foolishness under bondage to alien powers. That liberation was accomplished in his dying and rising and yet it also set in motion a battle that will end finally in the triumph of God over all God’s enemies. Ultimately it is rescue out of the power of death as the last enemy. And rescue into fullness of life in God with Jesus by the Spirit.
Israel’s God was always free to act in new and surprising ways. He was always consistent with himself and yet free to act in unexpected ways. The biggest surprise of all was Jesus. He is the God of Israel moving downward as lowly servant to accomplish a new exodus for the whole world. That was so very new! God takes all by surprise!
The people of Israel would never imagine such a thing. Nevertheless, God’s Spirit enabled the early Jewish believers to read the story backwards through Jesus’ resurrection into his death and then his life as fulfilment of the Israel story. Without the Spirit the early Jewish believers would remain blind to who Jesus actually was and is. But the exalted Jesus poured out the Spirit of Truth to open blind eyes enabling them to see the truth of this new and unexpected happening in Jesus.
So it is with us. The same Spirit of Truth opens the eyes of our hearts to see the newness of God’s action in Jesus. He does so in such a way that our eyes are open to the future horizon when this same God will make all things new in the new exodus still to come. Then we, and all creation, will be liberated into the newness of life that God has planned for us. We will be fully free to enjoy “what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has imagined, the things God has prepared for those who love him – these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit”
(1 Corinthians 2:9)
The Jesus story unfolds as the breaking in of the kingdom of God liberating those bound by disease, demons and even death. But eventually death seemed to have the last word as Jesus was brutally executed. Nevertheless, death was not the end of the Jesus story. For by the Spirit the Father raised Jesus from death declaring him to be Son of God in power.
As the followers of Jesus looked back at the cross through the resurrection and by the Spirit they saw that the cross marks the end of one era and the start of another. They were now sure that in Jesus dying and rising the God of Israel has acted to accomplish a new exodus for the whole world.
By the Spirit, we now participate in this new exodus. For us, the old has gone and the new has come as we live in the freedom of the children of God. We are free from all the powers of the old order. We are free in the Spirit to draw near with Jesus crying Abba Father. For by the Spirit we share in Jesus’ relationship with his Father enjoying life with him in God now and forever!
Yes, we are new exodus people living in the freedom of what the Triune God has done, is doing and will do to make all things new.
Jesus spoke very little about his suffering and death for us. However, the nearer his ‘hour’ (as he called it) approached the more he was ready to speak little by little about his death and the resurrection to follow. One way he spoke about his dying and rising was as his exodus.
The early believers experienced this new exodus. They actually lived in the freedom of the new exodus even as they looked forward to the future liberation of all things. Within this experience of new exodus a new narrative of God’s saving acts identifies who God is. Israel pointed to their God as the One who brought Israel out of bondage in Egypt. The early Jesus community singled out their God as the One who raised the crucified Jesus by the Spirit. They identified God in this new way by telling the story of Jesus’ dying and rising as the new exodus that sets us all free from the bondage of sin and death.
Just like the early believers, we now share in the freedom of the children of God in union with Jesus by his Spirit. We are free from sin and death and free for God. We live freely in him and he lives freely in us as our life is hidden with Christ in God. And now we await the liberation in fullness. Then the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. This is the new exodus already accomplished, already experienced and already anticipated with sure expectation. “So if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed”.
The Lord liberated his people from oppressive bondage in Egypt. They were now free to enter into a covenant of love with their God. Israel constantly looked backwards to this great liberating event reminding them that their God is the One who set them free from oppressive bondage. Later in their history, through Isaiah, the Lord pointed them forward to a new exodus event. He would act again to liberate them from oppressive exile in Babylon and also from even more oppressive powers. And in this new exodus Israel’s covenant God will prove to be the God of all peoples.
At his transfiguration Jesus spoke to Moses and Elijah about his “departure” which he would accomplish at Jerusalem. The word translated departure in Luke is exodon so they were talking about his “exodus”. The death of Jesus is the new exodus that God promised through Isaiah.
In this new Exodus the lowly servant of the Lord liberates us from all the powers that oppressed us. Through him we are free from sin, death and all the dominion of darkness. And that means we are free for a new covenant of love with God sealed with Jesus’ blood. Within this new covenant we are free to enjoy life in the promised land of participation in the very life of the triune God. Furthermore, within this communion of love we anticipate the day when the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
Jesus acts in our place and in our cause as only he can. He alone “gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father”(Gal. 1:4). We did not play any part in this saving action. How could we? We were under the power of the present evil age unable to do anything for ourselves and so unable to add to what Jesus did for us. He was also made a curse for us to free us from the curse (Gal. 3:13). Again, he did so, without us. The whole of God’s saving action has happened fully in Jesus needing no completion by us.
But is there no way at all that God’s saving action is completed by us? What about the decisive demand of faith? Faith is vital, but it does not add to what Jesus has done for us. In faith we gratefully respond to all Jesus has done for us by trusting in Jesus plus nothing. We fully trust in him alone and not at all in ourselves. And we give thanks to God for his indescribable gift.
This faith comes as Jesus encounters us personally by his Spirit. And in this encounter we know that faith is the gift of God. Furthermore in this response of faith we are united to Jesus by his Spirit. And in this union we now share personally in Jesus response of faith in our place and on our behalf. In that way, our imperfect response of faith shares in the perfect faith of Jesus on our behalf. It is all Jesus plus nothing.
Left to ourselves we humans are enslaved under the reign of sin and death. Under these powers we are always against God. We don’t want him. Nevertheless, God wants us and shows he is for us as he steps into our situation to rescue us from our plight. God intervenes in the death of Christ to bring to an end the reign of sin in death. He takes our sin upon himself and goes down into death to bring the power of sin and death to an end. Then Jesus is raised from death by the Father’s Spirit bringing into existence an entirely new creation.
This decisive divine intervention brings about a radical reversal of our previous situation in Adam.
In Jesus dying, the old is gone.
In Jesus rising, the new has come.
God himself has interrupted our old human existence in Adam under sin and death in order to open a new and living way in Jesus and his Spirit.
Jesus died and rose again as our representative so we died and rose with him. We have been crucified with Christ and so for us the old has gone. We have also been raised with Christ and so for us the new has come. And now our ongoing daily life is shaped by this dying and rising. Daily we die to any religious self-effort in attempting to be right with God or holy before God or more united to God. Daily we also rise in the Spirit into our new relation with God in which all things are new.
Scripture gives us various windows on the cross. These windows offer different ways of looking into the meaning of the cross. Gazing through these windows we are able to consider diverse features in Jesus self-offering for us and so gain a fuller understanding of his cross. And yet, we can never gain mastery over the mystery of the cross. For what actually took place between Jesus and his Father in the most holy place is hidden from us.
On the day of atonement the most important part was done within the veil beyond human sight. The high priest took some of the blood shed in sacrifice and disappeared behind the veil into the holies of holies. Jesus, our great high priest entered within the veil into heaven itself, into the holy of holies of God’s presence. There as our high priest he offered himself for us beyond our view. That means that the innermost meaning of atonement remains mystery. It is beyond our seeing and our saying. As T. F. Torrance says the cross is “… a holy and infinite mystery which is more to be adored than expressed. Here we tread the holy ground of the garden of Gethsemane and Calvary and here we must clap our hand upon our mouth again and again, for we have not words adequate to match the infinitely holy import of atonement”.
By the Spirit, we can see something of what the cross means as we look through the windows on the cross. Nevertheless, we cannot gain mastery over the mystery that always confronts us as we survey the wondrous cross.
Can we penetrate into the deep meaning of the cross of Christ? T. F. Torrance tells us that we cannot think our way into the cross but only out from it. And we only think our way out from the cross with understanding as we view it from the resurrection side. And yet, even in this “understanding” we are confronted with mystery beyond our knowing.
The Spirit of Christ must open to us the mystery of the Crucified Christ by bringing Christ to us in living encounter. Only then do we see something of what his cross means. In the presence of the risen Jesus we see that his tragic death has actually conquered death. Sin reigns in death, but now we know that both sin and death have been defeated and we are liberated from their power.
As the Spirit opens to us the meaning of the cross it still remains hidden as mystery. As David Willis says, “the more we know of its hiddenness the more it grows in its hiddenness. And the more we are caught up in its hiddenness, the more we are encountered in its disclosive power” In this encounter we do not invent our own theories of atonement trying to gain mastery over the meaning of the cross. Rather than trying to gain mastery over the cross we gaze into the mystery of Christ crucified. In wonder we say, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”
The Father’s Son came among us identifying himself fully with us. He did not stand over us aloof and menacing, but came alongside us as one of us. He came for salvation, but also for judgment. Jesus tells us that the Father has given all judgment to the Son. That means his judgment is the ultimate judgment of God against which there can be no appeal to a higher court.
We may now shrink in fear from all this as severe. Before we do, let us recall that the Judge is Jesus. Yes, the Judge is one who has identified with us fully in our need. He has himself been tempted and is therefore sympathetic towards us. Furthermore, he is the judge who has been judged for us. The Father handed over all judgment to him and yet he handed himself over to the false accusations of human judges so that he might bear within himself the ultimate judgment of God. The Judge is judged.
The Judge handed himself over to bear the condemnation that rested on the old humanity in Adam. The old humanity is condemned to death as the wages of sin. But Jesus tasted that death for us and in doing so brought about the death of the old humanity under the condemnation of death. He has made an end, a radical end, of the old humanity which opposes God. Having done so, he rises from death as the new man in new creation and we rise with him. We rise as the dearly loved children for whom there is now no condemnation.