Getting Off Scot-Free — You Too!?
The trial had been going on for days: a trial against Winnie Mandela, the famous leader of the African Freedom Party, “mother of the nation”. She stands accused of the murder of a 14-year-old boy, James Moeketsi Seipei, or “Stompie”. The justices of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa are to administer justice. The future of the new South Africa is at stake. All the witnesses have been heard. People, including Stompie’s mother, are crowding the gallery. At times she spontaneously bursts into tears when she hears about the violence, torture and injustice that was done. Only the accused Winnie, wearing large sunglasses, remains unfazed.
Then suddenly, after the last witnesses have spoken, you see it happening. Winnie stands up. Now take a look at the photos, which show a “salvific-historical moment” of South Africa’s future. With her back held straight Winnie walks up to Stompie’s mother. She holds out her hands, disarmingly. Stompie’s mother looks up perplexed. What is going on here! And before she realizes it, Winnie holds her in a tight embrace. Overwhelmed, Stompie’s mother now puts her arms around Winnie. The photos show how upset she is. It is a stunt by Winnie to make up for things, without an apology, without remorse, without any acknowledgement of guilt. With insolent pride Winnie is trying to evade justice, afraid of a fiasco, afraid of the consequences. Thoroughly mean-spirited, she makes to turn justice into her favour.
Faced with such arrogance, Stompie’s mother shyly stoops down. Her thoughts are: “Is this what reconciliation is all about!? How can we even proceed? We might as well forget about it! As far as I am concerned, it’s all over...”
This would not happen to us in our country. We would be protesting: I will not put up with this! We would stand up for our rights. Do you not dare to short-change us! Here people would easily be “hurt and offended”. We have no problem in pointing our finger at the guilty party. And we are increasingly getting more vicious about it. When you are ill, it is because of the wrong doctor, medicines or hospital. Unlike in the past, nowadays people are quick to demand compensation for injustices or damages they suffered. It is now many years since the Second World War and yet there are still war victims, either because of what they experienced themselves or because they grew up in a post-war family. They demand their money back, or reparations, checking into the archives for lost property of parents or grandparents. It has not been forgotten, and certainly not forgiven...
Guilty — the Details Matter!
As you can see, guilt and restitution really matter. An argument can easily flare up! Old wounds can open up at any time. You cannot get rid of broken relationships that quickly. The steady recurrence of old wounds continues to bring with it grief and hurt. How far back in history do you have to go to resolve all wrongs? New evidence keeps popping up. Questions of guilt continue to haunt and accuse us. Itis enough to make people desperate, especially when we consider that in many cases it is too late to set things right again.
But of course we keep trying. For instance, we try to measure how big the damage has been for you and for me. I have. We want the objective facts: so many meters, that much weight. Numbers, grades, amounts of money. You know it for yourself. You have probably argued with your teacher about your grades, about improving your score by just a few percentage points. Even if you yourself were only half convinced, you play your role as being the innocent victim. At least you try. Students do not allow themselves to be pushed around. Recently an entire school was even taken to court over a fraction of a grade. That boy’s exam depended on it. Then apparently it is only the school that is at fault...But if you are caught cheating, of course you are indignant. How does anyone dare to accuse you...
Our rights!...But What About God’s?
Yes, admitting guilt is difficult. When we ourselves are short-changed we scream blue murder. But when we short-change others, we are not to blame. It happens in small things, at home with friends. It happens in the bigger things as well: in society, between countries and groups. There is uncontrollable damage because we are not ready to admit and certainly not to forgive. What about our interests! Our image! Our rights...
And who really is thinking of how much we short-change God every day...? Well, we say: God... God, who even thinks of him... Surely he forgives... Yes, God does indeed forgive, but we cannot and do not!? Is that even possible?
Are You not Ashamed ?!
You sense that such a mentality ruins relationships between people. Things will only be right again when the argument, the swearing, the evil that was done is mended and put right again. How can that be done? Only by admitting that we are guilty. That we share in the blame — all of us, you and I personally. That we shamefully bow our proud head. Only then is there a way out. When you recognize the other party, accept him or her, and ask and receive forgiveness. Then you are able to breathe a sigh of relief. Only then do you go free and are able to look the other person straight in the eye.
But who can? Admit guilt? Not Winnie Mandela, not President Clinton, and not us either. We prefer to hide our guilt. We stack it away deep inside of us. We make ourselves believe that we are not to blame, or we think up solutions and ways to justify our guilt. You try to repay it with candy, promises, benefits, or money. Such things are presented with much ado. Look how good we are... And then the fear strikes in our hearts again. Did we pay enough? Can we even make up for it? Will the other person still accept me, after everything that has gone wrong? Would I myself accept someone like that?
Redeeming Ourselves — While Retaining Our Integrity
Setting matters right again is a difficult and arduous process. It requires superhuman effort. People have sensed this for centuries. With their religions they called in the help of their God and gods. These had to somehow get the world back in line. Curses and evil needed to be avoided. People are prepared to make great sacrifices to ensure this. Dressed in beautiful clothing, with great ceremonies, solemn festivities, expensive parades, human self-denial and praying priests, they attempted to convince the “gods” to be on their side. The more it costs, the better. The more religion and secrecy, the stronger your case. The gods will have to listen...
Take a look for example at the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel. But take a look also at the sacrifices, the effort and good works of Buddhists, Hindus, or Muslims. By living a good life they are trying to force God or the gods to make things right again. Incidentally, that is just like a lot of Christians imagine things. A pious Sunday at church, a rowdy Catechism class, or an obligatory attendance at the Bible study hour... There you go, we have fulfilled our “duty” toward God. And for the rest, they are just as incapable as non-Christians to forgive others...
The burning questions that are at the bottom of people’s hearts are thus kept from flaring up. Apparently you can resolve them with certain ceremonials, a commitment, a sacrifice, a candle, a specific rite, an evening of singing, a church service, a small selection of Bible reading, and a quick prayer... Making amends? Seeking to be reconciled? Come on — do not make a big deal about it. We have priests for that, or magicians, pastors, doctors and social workers to handle that. Ancient or modern religions, with or without faith, no one really cares about it anymore. We ourselves declare that we go scot-free, free from guilt and blame.
Our Religiosity — a Masterful Camouflage
You see, people are always seeking to justify themselves. Sometimes it is very obvious, as in the case of Winnie Mandela. Often it happens in very clever and hidden ways, camouflaged from public scrutiny. Man is a genius at belittling his own guilt and at imagining that it is all behind him. With money, with economics, with prosperity, deluxe vacations, a nice job, with the absolute abandonment of Islam, with a dream world of the New Age, with some dragging our heels as we accompany our parents to church, with a day of swooning away in gospel music. We invent therapies, systems and religions that please our hearts and minds in order to relieve them of their guilt and regret. But whatever they invent, there is no solution or elimination of guilt. And they do not even come close to the rights and honour of God...
The Cross — the Breakthrough in Our Thinking
The Bible starts from the other angle. It begins with God. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2, I come with the message of the cross...! A message from God about a Saviour hanging on the cross! Do you hear? The cross, the gallows, a noose, martyrdom... This is how God makes peace. By him having been crucified — by his blood shed on the cross, Colossians 1:20-22. With his broken body on the cross, with his total surrender, Christ reconciled us again to God, v. 22. Why precisely Christ — a crucified Christ? And...why Christ alone?
- because not only do we short-change people, we also repeatedly ignore and push away God himself. Forgiveness starts with God. Christ is the great miracle that forgiveness begins with God, out of love that we do not deserve.
- because he was sent from heaven to earth, born of the Virgin Mary. No man could have conceived of that.
- because Jesus was one who never thought or did any sin. No one is able to say this of himself, or able to imitate this.
- because he took God seriously, stood up for his rights, and sincerely loved God. Who among us apply this toward himself?
- because he took our sin and guilt onto his shoulders. He carried them away to the cross. No one has ever thought or done that.
- because all of our sins were poured out on him, 2 Corinthians 5:21. He was abandoned by God on the cross, and died for our sin.
Only when he had accomplished everything, only then the unique, decisive sacrifice had been made. Then God called him to rise from the grave. All was well between him and God. Christ went free. He came forth alive from sin, guilt, the grave and death. He can look God straight in the eye and he does not die, not ever again. He is forever...scot-free!
It is FINISHED...Accomplished!
Only in this way has guilt been removed, marked as “paid in full”. That is complete news, great news (gospel!), and the blessed reality. Whoever follows Christ and believes in him, also goes free. He leaves guilt and punishment behind him. It is forgiven, reconciled. On the cross cried out in a loud voice, freely and frankly: “It is finished!”...The most beautiful words that have ever sounded on earth. Shouted from the cross. Vibrating over the barren hill of Golgotha. It bounced up against the long cloaks of scribes, the bystanders and his disciples. This news was proclaimed loudly into people’s ears. Just after the dreadful darkness had lifted. Shrill but clear it sounded in the late afternoon, a few hours before the Passover. More beautiful, more fully, more profound and moving than the most beautiful cantata composed by Bach: “FINISHED...Lord God, your Servant can report: his work is DONE!”
That explains why this message, this gospel, needs to resonate throughout the world. It is not a message that people or professors have put together. But “what no man imagined” — not in any human heart, by any president, minister, priest, magician, imam, guru, prophet or pastor — that arose in God’s heart: a heart that loved. A heart that gave up the beloved Son for our sake. From heaven he came to earth — to a world that shouted, “Away with him!” He was mistreated and hung on the cross. In this way, along unprecedented paths, God paved the way for reconciliation and forgiveness toward us, toward the world. Only through this gospel do you, and you, and you, and me go scot-free.
Diction and Contradiction
This gospel brings peace and healing to people and society. However...it does go against the grain. It is a difficult word: the cross, our guilt, and reconciliation through justice. It hurts our pride and self-conceit. Then we quickly distort the meaning of the cross. Then we are quick to say that Jesus is only an ordinary person, a martyr — yes, but oh well, there are so many of them...Jesus: merely an example of an honest life, worthy of imitation.
Christianity then becomes a religion alongside and among many other religions. No less and no better. Then you no longer have any need for pastors, evangelists or missionaries. The United Nations, the European Union, Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, Mobile Brigades, economists, ministers, scientists etc. will have to solve the problem. With talk, violence, armies, money, entertainment and prosperity...
Do not fall for it. The church holds the cross high in its banner. Not haughtily, but in humility and meekness. Those who preach the cross also show the love itself that is speaking in and through the cross. It is the love of God that seeks people. The proclamation of the cross is the humble walk of believers, who know that they are set free by love, grace, and reconciliation. This is what keeps the church going, what motivates us to evangelism, and what provides dynamism to mission efforts: only the cross of Jesus!
The Theological University: Studying the Meaning of the Cross — More Than a Blessing!
That is the only true foundation for the Theological University. Students will soon graduate who must pass this on: the gospel, considered “foolishness” by the world. They are to teach, present and urge people to faith. They become servants of the crucified Christ. To you, to your friends, your parents, your professors, the Clintons, the Saddams, the Winnie Mandelas, the Stompies, the parents of the Stompies, the Spice Girls, the Michael Jacksons, the bakers, mail carriers, teachers, pupils, yes, to everyone, everywhere in the world, with the good news of the cross. Over and against unbelief, pride, fear and non-confessed guilt. This is how we are Christ’s church together.
Those who go scot-free before God on account of the cross, will also go out into the world with the message of the cross.
Free and clear: it is possible.
We — students and teachers in Kampen, parents and friends at home, believers, old and young — are set free and called by God.
And they worship the crucified Christ, the Lamb who was slain.
They go on in freedom.
Freely they take their stand.