I tweeted this earlier...
Just did the "Which Good Friday character are you?" quiz. Thought I'd definitely be the crowd. Amazingly I got "Jesus Christ". --Gal 2:20
— Glen Scrivener (@glenscrivener) April 17, 2014
It's deliberately provocative and, of course, open to the criticism: "Oooo, look who thinks he's Jesus!" But here's why I stand by it. At least a dozen times the bible encourages us to identify with Jesus at Calvary (see below). When the Negro Spiritual asks "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?", a biblical answer is: "Yes. I was at the very centre of it - dying on that middle cross."
That's not the first answer that springs to mind is it? Our instinctive response is to say "I was hammering in the nails." There's great truth to that. As the wonderful Townend song says, "It was my sin that held Him there." But that's not the only answer. And at least 12 times in Scripture we are cast in a different role in this Passion Play. We are placed on the cross with Jesus. For every verse that tells us Jesus died for us there's another telling us we died in Him. And it's vital to hold those two truths together. Let me explain...
What's the very first promise of the Bible?
Nope, earlier than that... Earlier still... You know what the first promise was from the LORD God to man? "You will surely die" - Genesis 2:17.
Death is the judgement promised for sin. No wonder that death would be part of the next big promise - Genesis 3:15. The Seed being struck to save us. Death was the judgement for sin. Death was also the way of salvation! There is just no escaping death. We live in the Lamb's world and we will surely die. We either die apart from the LORD Jesus or we die in the LORD Jesus. But everyone dies.
I emphasize the point because sometimes we forget this when we speak of Christ's death for us. We must never tire of proclaiming Christ's death for us - it is the blazing epicentre of the gospel! (e.g. 1 Cor 15:3). But we misconstrue this truth if we imagine that Christ dies over there so that I remain unaffected over here. No, Christ hides me in Himself and includes me in His death. In other words, His death is not only substitutionary. It is substitutionary because it is inclusive.
See how Paul teaches this over and over in his letters:
All of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4)
Our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with. (Romans 6:6)
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin… (Romans 6:11)
You died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to Another. (Romans 7:4)
Christ died for all and therefore all died. (2 Corinthians 5:14)
I was crucified with Christ and I no longer live. (Galatians 2:20)
[I belong to Christ and thus] my flesh has been crucified. (Galatians 5:24)
I am crucified to the world. (Galatians 6:14)
In Christ you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism. (Colossians 2:11-12)
You died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world (Colossians 2:20)
You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)
Christ indeed died for us. He bore the wrathful brunt of the Father's condemnation. But He did so in order to carry me with Him through that death sentence and out into His risen life. Christ died for me but - just as important to say - I died in Him.
If we speak of Christ dying for us without being clear that we died in Him, we can get into trouble. Let me briefly outline two potential problems:
Firstly, the Romans 6 problem: We think of grace as licence. If we just speak of Christ over there paying for my sins over here, it makes no sense for me over here to live in connection with Christ over there. Basically we imagine that Jesus over there underwrites my sinful existence over here and therefore anyone calling me to live beyond sin, death and judgement sounds absurd.
But Paul's argument is that we died in Jesus. The old self is crucified and the new self is risen in Christ. The cross was not the underwriter for my sin, it was the undertaker!
Secondly, we might imagine that Christ's sufferings for us mean that we shouldn't suffer ourselves. It's ironic, but the cross is sometimes used to prop up a theology of glory!
Here's how it usually happens... Someone prays for healing and invokes Isaiah 53: "By Christ's wounds Susan IS HEALED, we claim this healing paid for in full by the cross." Well there's great Scriptural precedence for linking Isaiah 53 with healing (Matthew 8:17). I'm all for it. And I'm all for praying earnestly for healing. Jesus is kind and He may want to give us a picture of new creation glory even here in the midst of this old dying world. BUT... Jesus did not die so that we won't. Jesus died so that we might die in Him.
The path to new creation restoration is through death. The cross does not eliminate that pathway, it is the pathway to glory. The cross proves once and for all that Jesus is not committed to prettying up this old world. He is committed to summing it up and plunging it into the fiery death it deserves. Only through that furnace will it be reborn.
Jesus has not promised to prolong this old world of Adam's. He has promised "You will surely die!" But through that death comes a new heavens and a new earth. That's where we must set our hopes.
Just imagine if Jesus kept on healing our old bodies. At what point should He let us die? At 90? 100? 150? When can He say 'enough is enough' and bring us through death into resurrection life? That's His purpose.
The cross does not mean we will avoid suffering and death. It means we will go through it - but hidden with Christ. And - yes indeed - by His wounds we are healed. But that healing is not the prolonging of the old man - it's the resurrection of the new.
This Easter don't forget - Jesus did not just die for you, you died in Him. The Christian life makes no sense until you put yourself on the cross with Christ.