Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is both “pleasing” and “necessary”

March 24, 2016

Jason Micheli, a United Methodist pastor and blogger with whom I’ve disagreed vigorously over the years on a number of issues, guest-blogged over at Scot McKnight’s blog today on atonement theology. He sees irreconcilable tension between those (many) parts of the Old Testament in which God delights in Israel’s temple sacrifices and those parts, such as Psalm 51 and prophets like Amos, in which he disdains them.

He sees a conflict, for example, between Psalm 50 (pro-sacrifice) and Psalm 51 (anti-sacrifice: “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”)—as if he doesn’t notice that Psalm 51 itself ends on a pro-sacrifice note: “Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.”

So, according to the end of Psalm 51, the problem isn’t with sacrifices per se, but sacrifices offered in the wrong spirit—without accompanying repentance. Why is that hard to understand? What am I missing? One important theme of the Sermon on the Mount, after all, is that the condition of our heart matters more than any law-abiding action on our part.

He asks the following rhetorical questions:

Is God’s self-giving in the Son through the Spirit pleasing to the Father, as the poet of Psalm 50 might imagine? Or is the murder of an innocent scapegoat upon a cross but another example of what Amos decries as the status quo’s practice of turning justice into wormwood? Worse, would God look upon us, who turn such an injustice as the crucifixion into a pleasing, even necessary sacrifice, and thunder ‘I hate, I despise, your worship?’

So wait: He thinks God might be unhappy that we’ve turned the cross into “pleasing, even necessary sacrifice”?

As for its being “pleasing,” why does he think the church has called tomorrow’s holiday Good Friday? Christ’s submitting to death on the cross is the most “pleasing” event (from God’s perspective) in human history! As for its necessity, this is one question that has separated progressive Christianity from orthodox Christianity for the past couple hundred years.

Micheli, offering a sop to Christian orthodoxy, concludes with these words:

Is our thinking, I wonder in Holy Week, that Christ’s cross is a necessary sacrifice for sin a ‘kindness’ God permits because, though God hates all devotion devoid of any concern for justice, it’s just this offering, needful or not, that delivers what God truly desires: a broken and contrite heart?

For me, what’s at stake is this: Does the cross of Christ accomplish something objective in reconciling sinners like me to God?

I hope so, because if my atonement depends on me—and my “broken and contrite heart”—I’m doomed!

6 Responses to “Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is both “pleasing” and “necessary””

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    I’m encountering more and more “modern Christians”. These are folks who say that the God of the Bible is “politically incorrect”. It extends to a denial of the exclusivity of “salvation by Christ alone” (their God wouldn’t send all of those nice Hindus to hell), the sacrificial system, as you cover here, and the God who orders the annihilation of whole people groups, as in Deuteronomy 20,”Completely destroy them–the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites–as the LORD your God has commanded you.”, to name a few instances.

    It’s no use trying to argue with them. They have made up their minds that “their God is not like that”! They have created a god in the image of their own preferences. And, the destiny of their immortal souls is at risk due to it.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    I agree with Grant. Oprah Winfrey once said, “My God is not jealous.” (Evidently she considered jealousy as a “bad motive,” so, regardless of what scripture says, she was the “expert” on the subject of what God could be like, and she opined that he could not be jealous.) Sorry, Oprah, you don’t get to “decide” what God can be and is like. You have to recognize him as he is and either worship or rebel.

    This is a common problem once someone rejects the Bible as the ultimate source of truth about God. If you reject that, then you can, indeed, “make God in your own image,” as opposed to the other way around. But what other “valid source” do we have to go to resolve such matters? “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life,” Peter says. (And that in response to some “hard sayings.”)

    • brentwhite Says:

      Notice how Micheli’s words here make it seem as if we Christians made up, from whole cloth, the idea that the cross of Jesus Christ is somehow a good thing. As if we somehow distorted the original meaning of the gospel. As if Christ’s death isn’t at the climax of all four gospels! (What did someone say one time? The gospels are passion narratives with prologues? Something like that.) As if Paul doesn’t spend a disproportionate amount of time writing about Christ’s atoning death (almost at the exclusion of everything else!). The cross is absolutely central to Christianity. Because of what God’s Word reveals to us about it!

      • Grant Essex Says:

        Brent, give me the Gospel in one sentence. I know you can, but most Christians cannot give it to you in one, coherent sentence. (Bet you have to use the words Son of God, Virgin birth, perfect life, Cross and Resurrection of the Body.)

  3. Grant Essex Says:

    Tom, well said!


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