Friday, February 2, 2018

It Should Have Been Me (No, It Shouldn’t Have)

"Crucified Slaves on the Via Appia." Fedor Andreevich Bronnikov. 1878. (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Even in our most-contemplative states, we Christians can be so blessedly stupid.

Christians, like every other segment of society, largely plod along in this life. We have jobs. We go to school. We buy groceries and drive on roads and wonder what the weather will be like.

But none of us lives in the hamlet of Hunky-dory. In spite of our hopes of getting a great deal at the grocery store and beating that red light, we know the life on which we plod is screwed up. Besides the multitude of little things that annoy us – like missing out on last week’s produce sale and getting a warning for running an orange light – there are usually bigger things that make our life’s road way more bumpy than usual. And often it’s our own stinking fault. Sin, it seems, is inescapable.

The Law has a way of convicting us of our sin in a way that is most unpleasant.  It is meant to be that way. The Law was not given on embroidered, chenille pillows. The Law was given on tablets of stone – a material that, at first blush, seems very unforgiving. It cuts us off at the knees, so that we have nothing on which to stand; so that we are forced to lay prostrate before the King of Glory in all His Divine Perfection, and realize, without question, that there is nothing but imperfection in our wretched selves.

It is at that instant the our gracious God speaks to us His Gospel through the Word. How can we not be thankful?! Our Lord’s love is so inconceivably boundless that it defies pondering. Yet we try. And it’s around that point that we sometimes jump the tracks and start pondering some stupid ideas.

Like, “It should’ve been me.”

This is where I get to tell you, “Don’t be such a doofus!”

Solomon sacrificed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep during a week-long festival dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem. Those 144,000 sacrifices [see what Solomon did there?] weren't sin offerings, but it gives an idea of the scale of things during the daily life of the Temple. The blood poured out for sin must have saturated the ground. It must have inched awfully close to the water table. One must assume the smell alone was powerful. And yet all those offerings were only pointing to a singular sacrifice to come.

And what of punishment? Did any of the thousands crucified – Christian or otherwise – ever make satisfaction for their own sins? No. Luther found out the hard way that self-flagellation was pointless, yet penitents still flog themselves and are crucified with surgical steel nails – to their own detriment.

Scripture’s account of the Jesus‘ crucifixion includes the two criminals for a reason – neither could atone for their own sin. The unrepentant criminal regarded his earthly punishment with curses, and the repentant criminal, accepting his earthly punishment, appealed to Jesus blood to erase his eternal punishment.

Even though there is even song declaring as much, declaring “It should have been me” is simply heresy. If millions of oxen and sheep cannot erase your sin, then neither can you. And if you still think you can atone for your own sin, then why did my Lord have to die?

No, it couldn’t have been you. For that, we are all eternally grateful.

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