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Atonement: Why did Jesus have to suffer and die?

Why did Jesus have to suffer and die? is a question the disciples struggled to answer. Walking on the road to Emmaus we’re told they were bewildered and confused. How could they make sense of Jesus’ death and the cruelty of his death on a cross? How could Jesus’ death be part of God’s plan to bring heaven to earth as Jesus taught his disciples to pray?

The writers of the New Testament wrestled with this question around what we now call Atonement – the process of becoming at-one with God. In answering this question today, we would include words such as forgiveness, sacrifice, redemption and peace, but the early Christians wrestled to make sense of the significance of Christ’s death. Joel Green and Mark Baker in their book, “Reclaiming the Scandal of the Cross”, suggest that the New Testament writers borrowed images from significant spheres of public life in ancient Palestine and the larger Greco-Roman world: the court of law, commercial dealings, personal relationships, worship, and the battleground. During the season of Lent, we will focus on each of these images that the New Testament writings collected around.

Each of these images are metaphors, for not one theory or model can fully express all that we can say or understand about the significance of Jesus’ death.

The New Testament presents a choir of voices, each singing about the cross, but we have tended to listen only to the one voice”,

says Green and Baker. This study I hope will enrich our vision of the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross and how that might impact us in living out our faith.

This is not meant to be just a theological study but a reorientation and expanding of our vision of Christ’s work in the world and in our own lives. I invite you to participate in these conversations and respond to the divine drama - the manifestation of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

Rev Janet Staines

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