‘It is sad to think that someone else had to die for my friend to live, but I am so happy for my friend’.

I heard this from my friend Gary as we sat in my car in the dreaded Chicago rush hour.  We were driving from from Milwaukee to Chicago to attend a lecture by Professor N.T. Wright entitled The Royal Revolution: Fresh Perspectives on the Cross.

Soon the traffic was halted. Google maps indicated several crashes straight ahead. Would we make it on time? Our role was to represent N.T. Wright Online and help people access the course The Day the Revolution Began.  Was there hope to get there in time to fulfill our appointed task?

Meanwhile, Gary told me that a friend of his just found out that he would receive a new heart. He had been waiting for two years for a heart transplant. He was on a heart pump assist device. Well, his friend received notice that a heart became available that day and he needed to travel to the hospital immediately to receive it. He just needed to be there in time to receive it.

Meanwhile, we found an alternate route and were on our way, shaving 9 minutes off our travel time.

Jesus the Heart Surgeon

We arrived just in time at the Wheaton College Chapel where Prof. Wright was speaking. Prof. Wright was talking about what had to happen in order for people to receive a life changing new heart: a death had to occur in order for life to come to us. That’s the biblical narrative, Prof. Wright explained. He went on:

Down the years it has become apparent that unless the church is constantly exploring the meaning of Jesus’s death, constantly wrestling with the early biblical texts which refer to it, it is all too easy to get side-tracked, to settle down with a half-truth, or even to follow paths that ultimately lead down blind alleys.

Every generation has to do business afresh with the crucifixion, and however well we think we know the story and its meaning, we are not absolved from the same responsibility. I myself have preached, lectured and written about the cross hundreds, probably thousands of times, but I still find deeper meaning and more powerful energy in it the older I get.

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Here, in the Chapel of Wheaton College, there were hundreds of people, most of them 30 years younger than Prof. Wright, hearing that they must wrestle again with this important truth. Their generation must dig in, so as to understand the meaning and power of the Cross of Jesus.

Prof. Wright continued:

The four gospels confront us with a central claim: that Jesus was inaugurating God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. That is the overall story told by all four gospels.

Now, Western theology in the last two hundred years has had a hard time putting together the message of the kingdom and the fact of the cross. They seem to cut against one another: people see the kingdom as being about God transforming the present world and the cross as being about God rescuing people from the world.

But this is too shallow for words.

The first and most important thing to say about the cross in the gospels is that all four gospels see Jesus’s crucifixion as the moment when, and the means by which, the creator God wins the victory over all the forces of evil.

Jesus is crucified precisely as ‘the king of the Jews’; and one of the first things revealed by the resurrection is that this crucifixion was in fact his enthronement.

What Does ‘Jesus Died for Us’ Mean?

Have we come to grips with this central theme. Do we really embrace these realities? Or do we see the cross simply as a means by which we go to heaven when we die?

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Prof. Wright concluded talking about the need to understand the meaning of the Cross by saying:

But it is equally obviously central to Paul. ‘God commends his love for us in that while we were yet sinners the Messiah died for us’, he says, and explains more fully in 2 Corinthians that ‘the Messiah’s love leaves us no choice’. This is what makes Paul an apostle; this is why he will undergo any hardship or trouble for the sake of the gospel.

This ‘love’ is not simply a strong feeling. It isn’t simply that God loves each of us the way we each love our closest family, though that is true and more than true. ‘Love’ here is the covenant commitment, the ultimate divine faithfulness.

The New Testament’s doctrine of powerful divine love, embodied in Jesus and particularly in his death, is the direct and decisive outworking of the covenant promises in the Old Testament. And the covenant commitment itself is the outworking, the sharp edge if you like, of the creator’s faithfulness to creation itself. Get this right and the entire picture, from the first creation to the new heavens and new earth, is held in place. Get it wrong, and you might just end up with Plato, denying the goodness of the present creation altogether and seeking to escape it.

But when we get it right, we see that the cross itself is a sign of the joining together of heaven and earth. One of the reasons why the symbol is so powerful is because it says visually, in a radical new way, what the Temple had always been about: this is where heaven and earth come together, only now in the self-giving love of heaven for an undeserving earth. Hang on to that, and victory is ours.

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Learn to Talk About Heart Surgery

I am urging all of us to become skillful communicators and wise stewards of this amazing gift of God: New Life in Christ through the self-giving love of God. Our task is to be as skillful as the surgeons transplanting a heart. We are ever ready to bring a well-crafted message of Jesus as King, with the resulting effect that others embrace it to gain New Life. A life far better than what most of us settle for.

But do we have the dedication, the passion, the long-term endurance for such a task? I hope I have these things and I so hope that all would share that passion to become skilled in the study of the Word of God so that life and victory are embraced by the multitudes as we see illustrated in the Acts of the Apostles. The Cross of Christ is not a theory, but an event that changed the way things are in the world.

Gary’s friend arrived at the hospital ‘in time’ and counted on the amazing skill of surgeons and other dedicated professionals to survive the transplant and then to live on with his new heart. Skilled people with passion will be there to see that life, good life, will carry on. So also, we need to be ‘in time’ to bring the life-giving message of the Cross to others. Then, we, too, must continue to be there to see that Kingdom life emerges.

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David P. Seemuth

David Seemuth is the Founder and President of the Wisconsin Center for Christian Study which exists to bring transformation to Christian believers through the renewal of the mind. He and Prof. N.T. Wright collaborate in online course development and launched N.T. Wright Online in 2015. David has been an Adjunct Professor at Trinity International University for over 35 years and teaches in the area of Biblical Studies, specializing in the New Testament. He also served as an Associate Pastor at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, WI, for 30 years.

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