For followers of Jesus, his death on the cross and resurrection is seen as the most important moment in the history of the universe, and God’s ultimate answer to the problem of sin and evil. But how and why was Jesus’ death the solution?
A study on Romans 3:21-26 for young adults from the Society of Salt and Light, in Christchurch.
A quick introduction to the week’s bible passages and theme, which aims to engage people in the big picture of God’s story, and the challenge of living faith in light of that.
Something that’s puzzled people for thousands of years about this whole “Jesus dying on the cross” thing has been one question. Why? Why did he have to die? How did it actually change things? If Jesus could control the weather and heal the blind by spitting mud into their eyeballs – why couldn’t he just have pulled off one of those sorts of tricks to sort this whole sin thing out? And if he did have to die – instead of doing it horrifically on a cross, why not die in a slightly less unpleasant way, like in his sleep? Sadly the bible simply doesn’t answer many of those questions directly. But it does give us a bunch of different pictures and metaphors of what Jesus’ death on the cross was all about, and why so many have seen it as the answer. This idea of Jesus’ death and how it overcame sin, evil and death is summed up in this word atonement – which means at-one-ment with God. And one way Kiwis to get explore the whys and hows of this mind-bending subject is to think of something many of us hold dear: Anzac Day.
Anzac Day has now become something central to what makes us Kiwi – but it’s also a day that, like the cross, is confusing and hard to explain. Anzac Day remembers our young men dying with and for their friends, dying to save a nation. It’s a day of pride for our bravery, but it’s also a day of sacrifice, as our young men died on foreign shores. It’s a day of waste, as they paid the ultimate price for the follies of war that reduced Gallipoli to slaughter. And today, Anzac Day has become a Kiwi symbol of our identity through sacrifice. How can a battle that happened before we were born and seems like such a failure mean so much to millions of Kiwis? Like the cross, some things are just hard to explain. So how do Christians make any sense of Jesus death on the cross and the central role it plays in our faith? What does it mean to find hope in the brutal death of Jesus – God made flesh? And what does it really mean to take up our own crosses as we follow Jesus today?
For the Scholars
Discussion questions focusing on exploring the bible passage.
2. How much hope, then, does Paul have that we can get ourselves out of this situation?
3. Given this situation, why is Paul is so amazed that we have been justified freely by grace?
4. So, the human situation is very serious and we have seen that God takes our unrighteousness seriously. Is God just letting us off the hook then, and does this pose a problem for His justice?
5. Look again at verse 25. “Sacrifice of atonement/sacrifice for sin” is the same term that Leviticus 16 uses to describe the place where sacrifice’s for sin are made, forgiveness is declared and guilt is banished. How does this help us understand the significance of the cross?
6. Verse 26 seems strange to us when we first read it. Does it make any more sense in the light of what we have seen and discussed from this passage?
FOR THE DREAMERS
Discussion questions focusing on mulling over the theme.
1. The cross is the ultimate symbol of Christian faith, and yet it has become so cliche in Western design that its original meaning and significance may have become lost in the noise, even for Christians. What comes to mind for you when you see a cross? As a follower of Jesus how do you feel about it?
2. In verse 23 of our passage Paul states that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Do you think that sin is actually too big a problem for humans to sort out – or could Paul be exaggerating a tad here? Do you think we underplay the real impact of sin in our own lives, and in the world around us?
3. What do you think God’s willingness to allow His son to be captured, tortured, and killed tells us about God’s character? Is this proof that God is cruel? Or that God is willing to pay the highest price for ultimate love? Or proof that God is willing to challenge our human ideas of power and influence with vulnerability and weakness?
4. Which atonement perspective makes most sense to you?
- Substitution: Jesus as our substitute for God’s judgement.
- Moral Influence: Jesus influencing us to live sacrificial lives. (Watch this video with Alan Jamieson to find out about this theory of the atonement)
- Christus Victor: Jesus having victory over sin & death.
- Healer: Jesus dying to cure humans of our sin-sickness. (Watch this video with Josh Taylor to find out about this theory of the atonement)
5. In verse 25 of our passage the phrase “Sacrifice of atonement/sacrifice for sin” is the same term that Leviticus 16 in the Old Testament uses to describe the place where sacrifices for sin are made, forgiveness is declared and guilt is banished. Paul is probably making this link very intentionally. How does this help us understand the ultimate significance of the cross?
6. How does living a life in light of Jesus’ saving work on the cross make you feel? Grateful? Joyful? Smug? Complacent? Nothing at all? Why do you feel that way? Do you think it’s the reaction God hopes for?
7. If the cross is such an important part of following Jesus, it should probably play a big part in helping us to work out what we care about and do as followers of Jesus. How do you think Jesus’ death on the cross should influence what we value and the way we live our lives as Christians?
FOR THE REALISTS
Possibilities for on topic testimonials, sharing and story telling.
Ask your minister or vicar to share their thoughts and beliefs for 5-10 mins on how they view the atonement. It’s a tricky topic, so this is a great chance to ask them those curly questions. Fire away! Remember to give them at least a few days warning so they can prepare well.
FOR THE ACTIVISTS
Activities and adventures beyond the couch.
Look at this list inspired by the 20×20 of ‘Taking Up Your Cross’ from the THE ANSWER summit, under the categories that relate to the different perspectives on the atonement. Choose one suggestion as a group and develop it into a form that would work as a group activity.
- Sacrificial Living: Give up something precious of you.
- Sacrifice your sense of security: Don’t drive for a week.
- Holy Living: Recycle. Read God’s word. Pray.
- Kingdom Living: Plant a community garden. Sign a petition.
- Healer Living: Sponsor a child. Volunteer at an elderly home. Go on
- ‘Social Exposure’. Help people.