The cross is everywhere. Rap musicians, basketball players and celebrities sport cross necklaces and tattoos. Even Eminem wears a cross necklace. Rob Bell begins his fifth chapter titled “Dying to Live” talking about how familiarity with the cross can make us think we know what it is.
He brings us back to the original listeners of the New Testament who were steeped in the sacrificial system. To these original listeners, the idea that Jesus was the final sacrifice would have rocked their world. He then walks us through the other ways to view Christ’s death on the cross.
- Reconciliation – Christ’s death brought about peace between us and God
- Justification – Jesus’ death paid the price for our sins so we could go free
- Victory – Jesus’ death destroyed death and evil
- Redemption – Jesus’ death redeemed what was lost
Each of these views of the atonement has a basis in Scripture. Bell argues that the early Christians looked around their culture for examples and metaphors of what Jesus’ death meant. Rob writes, “The point, then, isn’t to narrow it to one particular metaphor, image, explanation, or mechanism. To elevate one over the others, to insist that there’s a ‘correct’ or ‘right’ one, is to miss the brilliant, creative work these first Christians were doing when they used these images and metaphors.” In a sense they are all true.
Bell then moves on to deal with the resurrection and makes the point that “this death-and-life mystery, this mechanism, this process is build into the very fabric of creation.” This really isn’t a new concept. When we eat plants we are eating something that is dead and yet it gives us life. He also brings up the fact that the gospel writer John includes 8 signs in his book up until Jesus’ death. Then in the garden, the eighth sign occurs when Jesus rises from the dead. Rob says that this eighth sign happened on the first day of the new creation. And it happened in a garden which connects it back to the Garden of Eden. Bell writes, “John is telling a huge story, one about God rescuing all of creation.”
Bell ends the chapter by talking about Eminem and how he might have stumbled on this same truth of dying to live. Rob writes, “Is that why he wore a cross around his neck? Because we all want new life. We want to know that the last word hasn’t been spoken, we want to know that the universe is on our side, we want to know on Friday that Sunday will eventually come.”
What Metaphor is for Us?
As I read through the various metaphors in Scripture that described what Jesus’ death accomplished, I wonder which one works best for our culture. I have wondered why some concentrate so much on Jesus’ blood when in our culture this metaphor doesn’t quite connect. The emphasis on the blood would have meant so much more for Jews living under the sacrificial system. So how should we talk about what Jesus’ death accomplished to those around us in suburban/urban America? I am not totally convinced of one yet but I do know this emphasis of death and rebirth to life or what I would call redemption connects with some. This is why I love movies where the hero hits bottom, learns an important lesson and rises from the dust. There is something there that relates to people and their story.
Which metaphor do you think is best for our American culture? What resonates with people?