By Rev Robert Barthram, Mar 11 2016 07:59AM
‘The most important thing is Jesus’ death and resurrection everything else follows on from that.’ Words spoken a few days ago in a small group that I was part of: words spoken to help an individual and to say the essentials without too many words. Words that neatly sum up so much and appropriate for this letter with both Good Friday and Easter Sunday falling in March but as all of April is in the season of Easter that can be written about next time. So what should I say first?
To answer that question my thoughts go to news I heard also a few days ago about the death of a URC minister, Professor Alan Sell, a man I was privileged to know one of the greatest intellects in our denomination, which was matched only by his humility and good humour.
At the beginning of this new millennium he wrote about an early 20th century theologian, P.T. Forsyth and I am reminded of some of the things he wrote.
Professor Sell quotes the words of Forsyth for those who reduce Jesus’ death to just an example of God’s love:
“Christ came not to say something but to do something. His revelation was action more than instruction. He revealed by redeeming. The thing He did was not simply to make us aware of God’s disposition in an impressive way. It was not to declare forgiveness. It was certainly no to explain forgiveness. And it was not even to bestow forgiveness. It was to effect forgiveness, and to set up the revelation of forgiveness both in God and man.”
He then writes following that quote of how he believes, ‘that the Cross is more than a visual aid concerning God’s character and demeanour. It is the place where atonement is made and the once-for-all victory is wrought.’
You may wonder how this can be. Is our sin not really that bad or can God just be overlooking it? How can we be forgiven and there be such a complete victory?
The answer is neither that ‘we are actually not that bad’ nor that ‘God just forgives and forgets.’ In God there is both love and holiness and our sin affronts God’s holy love but he takes the initiative and it is God in Christ who renders satisfaction and makes reconciliation to himself possible, ‘the atoning sacrifice is made possible by God and received by him.’
He quotes from P.T. Forsyth’s well named book, The Cruciality of the Cross:
“The one thing God could not do was simply to wipe the slate and write off the loss. He must either inflict punishment or assume it.”
As two modern hymns say:
“for every sin on Him was laid;
here in the death of Christ I live.”
“This the power of the cross:
Son of God slain for us.
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.”
In His Name,