Last week’s blog may not have established with sufficient clarity the fact that though Abraham was indeed a monotheist, he was still influenced by pagan perspectives of their fictional gods. The record from Scripture shows that Abraham offered numerous slaughtered animals to God. Without exception they were all thank offerings, a ritual God never requested (Jeremiah 7:24, most translations except NIV). When Abraham attempted to slay his son, his act was intended to please God in pagan fashion. His willingness to slay his son could have only been prompted by pagan influences. Let us remember that God tempts no one to do evil (see James 1:13). Thank offering rituals are useless in overcoming sin – which is God’s only concern, because sin is menacing the survival of the universe.
God’s request to Abraham to dedicate his son Isaac to the highest of highest suggested last week, was an invitation to depart from pagan views and practices and to follow after God and His message. The story of Abraham’s attempt to “sacrifice” his son was not to convey a message of substitution, but to show him that such slaughters are futile and meaningless. Instead of offering God with dead animals, or worse yet, the corpses of mutilated children, God was telling Abraham to destroy pagan gods along with the destructive mentalities they proffer. Pagan religions are all founded on meaningless superstitions that were to be destroyed from the minds and hearts of the people. The concept of substitution for sin is not implied in this story. Such a superstition can only be a figment of human fascination with pagan conjecture.
Before a more serious discussion about Isaiah 53 can be undertaken to show that the passage does not contain language suggesting substitution, let us consider other statements from the New Testament. Today a narrative reported by Mark (10:45, NIV) is the focus of our attention. Jesus said:
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Here we are contemplating one of the most profound statements of Jesus. Speaking of Himself as “the Son of Man,” He makes it clear that His mission was to serve humanity, not the other way around. This service to the human family was to lead Him to His death. This gets a little complicated because a literal translation of what follows would say: “and to give His life as a price to release many.” The problem is that the Greek word “lutron,” which means “a price for release,” has been assigned a broader terminology over time. A price for release implies a price paid to set a person free (see John 8:32). At the time of Jesus this term was used almost exclusively to designate a price paid to release a person from the bondage of debt, prison, or slavery. It was always applied to a person, never to the purchase of things or objects, because things or objects cannot be set free. It is not possible to release sin from bondage, nor should it ever be possible to release a person from the responsibility of sin. This would only serve to perpetuate sin. The text cannot imply that the death of Jesus exonerates or absolves people from sin or its consequences. The teachings and life unto death of Jesus were divinely designed to send a message powerful enough to persuade sinners of their addiction to sin and how to overcome the addiction. It is true that sin keeps a person under the bondage of its consequences, but the text does not say that the death of Jesus releases sinners from their obligation to love others, which is the only cure available to avoid sin and its consequences. Jesus paid the price of His life to release “many” from the sin addiction to which they are enslaved.
Salvation is not a release from one’s responsibility for hurting others by way of a mere pardon made possible on the basis of a substitution. This would release no one from the bondage or penalty of sin. Jesus paid the price of His life to bring sinners away from the slavery of sin by teaching and demonstrating “the way” to reduce sin and its consequences. He is “the way” to the truth that gives life (John 14:6). Jesus does not claim to take away the sins of the world by payment or substitution, but He offers free intelligent beings “the way” to overcome their addiction to sin.
By going all the way to His death in His expression of perfect love, it can be said that Jesus came to bring humanity the one and only message that has the power to heal sinners from their sin problem. Indeed, true love should never shy away from death, or it would not be the perfect kind of love Jesus manifested all the way to the Cross. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul says: “For the MESSAGE of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (because they persist in their sinful ways), but to us who are being saved (or healed from sin) IT (the message) is the POWER OF GOD” (NIV, emphasis and parenthesized text supplied). The power of God is His Message because it has the power to instill love in a sinner’s heart, which is the only way to overcome one’s addiction to self-centeredness that produces sin.
John the Apostle begins his gospel by saying: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Greek word “logos” is here translated “Word.” The text could just as well have been translated to say: In the beginning was the Message, and the Message was with (or in) God, and the Message was God. Indeed, God is all about the Message of love that eradicates sin.
God gave sinners this Message at the price of His life – not an exoneration from sin by substitution. The Message of selfless love is the power of God that changes hearts from evil to loving, thus reducing sin in the lives of “many” who accept His Message. Humans can only be released from the bondage of sin by understanding the Message from God that changes hearts. A substitution procedure to absolve sin lacks the power to transform hearts from self-centered to loving.
More on this fascinating subject next week.