preaching the crucified Jesus

April 17, 2009

I haven’t really blogged on Easter this year, as I usually do (2007, 2008), but I’ll be preaching on the Easter events again this Sunday, since I know that most of the kids sitting in that service wouldn’t have been to church over Easter weekend. But my preparation is a struggle! I know the kids in this service: They know nearly nothing of the Bible. Many haven’t been to church for a number of years now. And they are very prone to fundamentalism. Their fundamentalism worries me. But broader than the fact that I need to preach to these kids, I also need to find a way of talking about the cross; for myself. This has obviously not started today, but I’ve been theologizing about the cross probably for at least 9 years now, since the first time I led a small group of 13 year olds at a camp.

In the American conversation I notice a lot of talk about atonement. I found the fact that I don’t share this love of talk about atonement a bit strange, untill I realized that the Afrikaans translation of this word wasn’t one I ever heard much in church. Rather, we talked about salvation. But similar issues seem to be at stake.

If I’d ask the question “Why was Jesus crucified?” to a group of informed church members in our church, I’d probably get something in the line of the following: “God intended it” and “For our sins“. But my change in talking about the crucifixion isn’t that much a critique against these answers, but rather a reading of the Bible which calls for something else. I try and find the answer to the question “Why was Jesus crucified?” in the gospels, especially the synoptics, and I use historical and social scientific research as a lense in reading this.

Piet Meiring always talk about chapted 13 of Transforming Mission as vintage Bosch. If you want to know what Bosch thought, read chapter 13, he says. There Bosch the theologian moves to the background, and Bosch the preacher emerge, so to speak. I was just reading the part on salvation in Transforming Mission, and here Bosch does something similar than in chapter 13. His argument in both these parts is that we need to understand salvation and mission within the comprehensive christological framework – “his incarnation, earthly life, death, resurrection, and parousia” (p399). He explains the need for doing this with saying that

  • the Greek patristic tradition was orientated to the incarnation (I’ll have to read on the Orthodox church again to be able to point to the implication of this)
  • Western mission was oriented towards the end of Jesus’ life, his death on the cross. That tend to get us into a purely early Pauline understanding of salvation which focus on an apocalyptic event in the future
  • a Third model focused on the eartly life and ministry of Jesus, it was an ethical interpretation of salvation. According the Bosch this made Christ redundant in the end.

I think there is value in this comprehensive approach Bosch propose. However I’m thinking more and more that we should reorder this comprehensive narrative.

I love the historical Jesus writers. I really do. I’ve been reading parts of Nolan and Crossan again over the past two days. Bosch also liked the historical Jesus research, as can be seen in his approach to Transforming Mission. In writing Transforming Mission, he started out with the historical research on Jesus and the early church, and then moved onto three paradigms of mission found in the early church, this he found in Matthew, Luke and Paul. The historical Jesus research  help us in understanding Jesus, the person who lived and walked and talked in Galilea and Judea roundabout 27-33 AD. Who was crucified. Historical research has difficulty talking about the resurrection, not because of unbelieve, but the sources really makes it difficult (please make sure you really understand this point before critiquing). Historical research can however help us in understanding what the early church believed about this event.

The reordering I propose is to start where the early disciples started, and work in the same order that the story developed for the early church theologians.

  1. Jesus lives, walks and preaches in Galilea and Judea.
  2. He gets crucified
  3. The disciples experience him as alive and develops a theology of the resurrection
  4. Parousia (Christ’s second coming)
  5. A high Christology develops which lead to thoughts on the incarnation

So I simply moved the incarnation towards the end of the story. I think a fairly good case can be made that of these 5 elements, that was the one that became important to the early church last. My reason for doing this, is that when putting it first, we tend to answer the quesion “Why was Jesus crucified?” from the intentionality of God, while reality is that Jesus was crucified because the Jews [UPDATE: meaning, certain Jewish leaders, certain members of the Sanhedrin.  Thanx to Hugo’s comment] were really reallymad at him, and probably some Romans weren’t that fond of him either. This is reality: Some people really didn’t like Jesus, they didn’t like what he said or did, he was a threat, so they killed him. And at least some of what he said would have given enough reason to label him a terrorist, whether rightly so or not, so they could give him the death of a terrorist, and not of a religious heretic, which was being stoned, as with Stephen.

OK, but if this is why Jesus was crucified, where do we go from here? Well, we can say quite a lot about what Jesus said and did, the resurrection must have at least had a first meaning that what he said didn’t end with his death. That crucifying Jesus couldn’t kill what he started! But obviously his resurrection also gave rise to thoughts on his divinity, which I think there is also good evidence for that his disciples didn’t consider him divine before the resurrection, and it even took a while afterwards for the idea to sink in.

Only now could thoughts on the Parousia and incarnation develop. Now we could go full circle, or work backwords, and sya that if Jesus was God, and God was crucified, and a few obvious links with Jewish sacrificial rites can be made, and Jesus was God incarnate, then God’s intention with becoming incarnate in Jesus was to be crucified. That wouldn’t even be theologically incorrect! But that definitely is not the only interpretation! And I’m sure that wasn’t the first interpretation made in an upper room somewhere in Jerusalem; maybe it was in the house of Marcus’ mother, who later wrote a gospel with no incarnation as part of the narrative.

So, how do I preach it? I think historically a good case can be made that Jesus expected his own death. He knew about the rizing tensions, and that the leaders wanted to kill him. But did Jesus have to die? Yes, because the message he brought was so at odds with the rulers of the world, that they couldn’t exist side by side. Either he had to kill his message, or be killed because of the message. But the resurrection tell the story of hope, what Jesus brought cannot be killed! If I now turn the narrative into it’s usual order, I’d say that this is so at odds with what God is bringing to the world, that it would even go so far as to try and kill it, but it cannot be killed! The world cannot stop what God is bringing about in it.

Maybe I’ll have some more thoughts on how to preach this before Sunday. If you’ve actually read all the way down to this point, thank you! Let me know, and please critique and add on.


16 Responses to “preaching the crucified Jesus”

  1. Some really good thoughts. The challenge is to preach this to people at the age of 12-14 years so that they can understand what the crucifixion means practically for them in their everyday lives when they go to school or when they hang out with their friends in a mall.

  2. Steve Says:


    I believe Bosch got it wrong on the Orthodox view of the atonement. I suspect that that was because he got his theology from books, and never experienced the enacted theology of the Orthodox Church as is seen, for example, in the holy Week and Easter services. See my blog post on Salvation and atonement for example.

    Incidentally, what IS the Afrikaans for “atonement”? Orthodoxy sees it as much as redemption (verlossing) as anything else — something I had difficulty in explaining to Nic Paton in his posts on the topic, where he got it far more wrong than Bosch ever did.

  3. cobus Says:

    I hoped you would help on that point Steve! 🙂

    “Versoening” and “Atonement” is the Afrikaans and English words used in the Belgic Confession translations.

  4. I was “audio-reading” the gospel of John in my car today and a few questions arose in my mind. On at least four occasions it is said that Jesus could not be seized, because His time had not come yet (2:4; 7:6; 7:30; 8:20) and on two other occasions it is said that Jesus’ time HAD come (12:23; 13:1) and He was therefore preparing Himself for the end.
    If, with the sentence “…reality is that Jesus was crucified because the Jews were really really mad at him, and probably some Romans weren’t that fond of him either” it is meant that the Jews and the Romans were not merely puppets in the hands of God who had no other option but to crucify Jesus, then I agree with this. But if it means that Jesus did not come to earth to fulfill God’s plan for the world and that He merely said a few things which made the people angry so that they eventually decided to kill Him, then I would disagree.
    Jesus was born to die. In this regard Luke 9:51 is a crucial text: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Jerusalem is a leitmotiv in the Gospel of Luke and Jesus is purposefully on His way to Jerusalem because He must “suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (9:22; 17:25; 22:15; 24:26; 24:46).
    The emphasis on the role of the Jews and Romans in the blog post is important to make us realise that Jesus was truly part of human history and that people willingly played a role in His life, either for good or for bad.
    An interesting, although hypothetical question would be what would have happened of all the people had accepted the authority of Jesus and, instead of crucifying Him, they worshiped Him as God?

  5. Steve Says:


    I would translate “versoening” into English as “reconciliation”. It’s related, but I think “atonement” is wider, and certainly has got itself attached to the comparing of different soteriological theories.

  6. “Atonement” is used only once in the NT (Rom 5:11)but in other places the Greek word is translated as “Reconciliation”, eg Rom 11:15. In the Afrikaans Bibles this is translated as “Versoening”. Louw & Nida described the Greek “katallege” as: “to reestablish proper friendly interpersonal relations after these have been disrupted or broken (the componential features of this series of meanings involve (1) disruption of friendly relations because of (2) presumed or real provocation, (3) overt behavior designed to remove hostility, and (4) restoration of original friendly relations) – ‘to reconcile, to make things right with one another, reconciliation.”

  7. Hugo Says:

    Silly little nitpick: I would be careful about phrasing it “the Jews were really really mad at him” – maybe because I’m busy reading Borg&Crossan’s “The Last Week”. They emphasize and reemphasize that it wasn’t “the Jews” as a group of people, rather a select group within the Jewish community (Jesus being a Jew himself, and his followers also. Who might have ended up “crucifying” him indirectly, but I don’t think they were really, really mad at him. 😉 ) You know what I’m getting at, I’m sure…

  8. cobus Says:

    Your absolutely right, and yes, I think I get what your at. I think what I was trying to emphasize was that there was very specific political reasons for getting rid of Jesus. By I’m making an update in the post.

  9. Hugo Says:

    😉 Those in political power, that didn’t like the challenge to the status quo…? Grr, them liberals.

    In Africa, those in power also don’t like to be challenged…

  10. cobus Says:

    Also those with religious power.

  11. Steve Says:

    It is woth remembering that Ioudai in Greek can be translated as either “Jews” or “Judaeans”. Jesus was a Jew, but not a Judaean, he was a Galilean. John’s gospel, particularly emphasises the contrast. It was the leaders of the Judaeans who especially wanted to get ruid of him.

  12. Brian Says:

    “Either he had to kill his message, or be killed because of the message”

    Great statement and is the whole sermon in a nutshell. THe question is, are we willing to follow a message that the world STILL wants to kill?

  13. michaelrowancurle Says:

    Excellent comment by Brian.

    I’d like to add my two cents: Jesus came more to rise than to die (think about what Paul says about the resurrection as the essential element of the faith in 1 Corinthians 15:14). So in a sense, easter is not just about the fact that people rejected Jesus’ message and killed Him for it, but couldn’t kill His message, it’s even more about the fact that they couldn’t really kill Him at all. It’s not because His message still lives that we have hope, it’s because He still lives.

  14. Hugo Says:

    Michael, I would like to understand your nuances a bit better. I apologise for taking a bit of a reductionistic angle, but, can you describe in more detail?

    To give some context on the viewpoint I’m coming from: I sort-of equate Jesus’ message and Jesus — he is his message. So when I consider “his message lives on”, that’s pretty much the same to me as “he still lives”? People relate to Jesus, they have a relationship, and they have it in the way people have such things: Jesus, as the message personified…?

    Thoughts? Thanks!

  15. Michael Says:

    I appreciate what You are saying about Jesus and His message being the same. He lived His message. However, I believe the fact that Jesus is still actually alive and still “messaging” through his Body separates him from other teachers whose messages live on long after they themselves have died (Marx, Confucious, Ghandi). If this is not true, then we are truly nothing more than a philosophical society and not a faith.

    Maybe I’m not putting it quite right, but consider these words by Bruxy Cavey (“The End of Religion”):

    “There is a difference, an important difference between relating to God through systems of doctrines, codes of conduct, inherited traditions, or institutions of power, and relating to God directly, soul-to-soul, mind-to-mind, heart-to-heart. Jesus taught this distinction, lived this message, and was killed because of its implications”

    Hope that helps you catch my angle.


  16. […] for me. In 2007 and 2008 I wrote blogsposts on this day reflecting on the resurrection, and in 2009 a few days later. But on this resurrection Sunday what is called for is not a philosophical […]

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