The book I've been reading by Gerhard Forde, describing the essence of Luther's theology, has been really helpful to me. It has given me new appreciation for the Gospel and, especially, for the resurrection.
I have often wondered what the point of the resurrection is. I mean, if we look at the cross in terms of "ladder theology," that the whole point is that we have to climb a ladder to God, but since we can't then Jesus swoops in and helps us out by paying God off, I don't see much need for a resurrection. I have struggled with that, so when Forde pointed it out I was already with him in my mind. The typical answer given is that the resurrection "validates His sacrifice, proving that it was sufficient payment for God." Well, ok I guess. I'm not sure it actually says that explicitly in the Bible anywhere, though. It sounds sorta like man trying to put some meaning in to make sense of things under an existing framework, which Luther pointed out as flawed.
The issue isn't that Bible doesn't describe Christ's death as a ransom or as a satisfaction in some sense (propitiation) -it is those things. To acknowledge the liberals, it also gives us the impression that the cross gives us a demonstration and example of love. The facts about the cross aren't so much in dispute here. It is the overall framework of understanding that needs to be reexamined. Forde points out that the cross and resurrection are their own system, their own framework. It is something completely new, not a way to keep the old system, the ladder to heaven, going.
In the cross, there is something new. It is not us going up to God. It is God coming down. The law now is not a ladder, it is a circle that circumscribes us, imprisoning us. It does not say, "Climb higher." It says, "There is no way out." It haunts us, pointing its bony finger at the imminense and meaninglessness of our death. It shows that we, all born under Law, are born under a curse, under futility, only ending with futility -snuffed out like a candle. And when we look at Jesus on the cross, that is what we see. We see the God-man who came down to us, who was born under Law, who lived under the Law, experiencing "no way out." That is what the ultimate end of living under the Law brings -obscurity, darkness, condemnation, and death. He hung on the cross like a criminal -his death was a death... horrible, painful, ending in darkness and futility.
This news brings about a death. It doesn't say, "Hey... it's ok. You can't climb the ladder on your own, but you can still get there because of Jesus." It says, "There is no way out. Even Jesus did not escape. To live in this system just means one thing: death. There is no ladder, just a grave." And this is exactly what our "old Adam" needs to hear. There is no way out for you. It is not about hearing things about the cross which you can decide if you want to believe or not, so that you can use the cross to get to where you just found out you can't get to by yourself. We cannot remain spectators, deciding what we want to believe about the cross. It calls the old Adam through the cross.
And that is what it means to be crucified with Christ. The "old Adam" is put to death as the cross shouts that there is no way out, only death. It doesn't say, "try harder." It says, "you're dead -leave the body here in the grave." That is what I experienced twelve years ago. When I saw why Jesus died, my "goodness" was silenced. The part of me that sought to climb the ladder, like I had been doing my whole life, was put to death. It killed it. It killed me. The cross, in a real sense, isn't a message of hope. It is a message of death.
But that is why the Gospel does not stop there. That is why the New Testament talks so much about the resurrection, and it does not talk about it as a mere token of God's validation of the cross. The resurrection is the birth of something completely new, with Jesus as the first fruits. It is the entrance of a new creation. That is good news. The old has passed away and the new has come -a truth with not only life-changing but world-changing, eschatological significance.
That is why Jesus is the way (John 14:6). It is not facts about Jesus that are the way. He is the way. When the Gospel is preached and spiritually grasped in this way, someone dies, but something new is born. Of course, the old Adam is a big fan of trying to claw his way back out of the grave, trying to put himself back into the equation and re-initiate the ladder system (for one, with our view of the Christian life!), but his reign is over and his grave is made. Crucified, dead, and buried.