Judgment and forgiveness

I was reading the account of Peter and Cornelius this morning, in particular Peter’s sermon to Cornelius’ household, which ends with the following:

“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:42,43)

A couple of thoughts coming out of this:

  • Yet another insight for which I’m indebted to Dick Lucas, who pointed out how common it is for people to say that “the Old Testament God is a wrathful God, and the New Testament God is a merciful and loving God”.
     
    And yet when we look at what Peter says here, it is Jesus who commanded the apostles to teach that Jesus is “the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead”, and it is the Old Testament prophets who taught that Jesus is the one in whom we receive forgiveness of sins. So the teaching of the apostles is that the Old Testament God is a God of mercy and forgiveness, and the New Testament God is a God of judgment and wrath.
     
    OK, a slightly tongue-in-cheek point, but also a serious reminder to us of how the themes of judgment and mercy, law and gospel, are found throughout the Bible from beginning to end, and we cannot simply say that the New Testament sets judgment, law and wrath aside.
  • I also found it heartening to be reminded of how central it was to the apostolic proclamation that “everyone who believes in [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins through his name”.
     
    Much as I hate to contradict either NT Wright or Alastair Roberts, the gospel in the New Testament is not simply that “Jesus is Lord and God raised Him from the dead”, but it is also that everyone who believes in that risen Lord Jesus receives forgiveness of sins.
     
    There will be many, sadly, for whom the lordship of Jesus ends up as bad news, because “he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead”. This morning’s reading was a fresh and cheering reminder for me that the reason why the announcement that “Jesus is Lord” is, nevertheless, good news is that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name”.
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8 Responses to Judgment and forgiveness

  1. Lito Cruz says:

    When I was an RC kid, I had no problem believing that Jesus is King/Lord. What was hidden from me was that the King died to pay for me. In fact God and Jesus hated me and I had to go to Momma Mary since she can not be denied by her son. She was more merciful, so this was ingrained in me. That is why it is such a remarkable experience to realize that Christ became my sacrifice – for me.

    In a round about way when I was deep in evangelicalism, this Lordship theme comes thru the back door. Jesus is Lord and this is emphasized to hammer on holiness and sanctification.

    I like what Nagel said – Jesus is Lord precisely because he is Saviour.

    Lito

  2. Phil Walker says:

    So I did a liddle reflectin’…

    I think we *can* salvage the “Jesus is Lord” view of the gospel, if we understand how he is Lord, and what kind of Lord he is. And that, to tie in your other recent posts, is of course a matter of orienting our theological categories so that they are founded on the Cross.

    To start, the Cross of Christ is considered in New Testament theology to be his enthronement (also, in shadow, OT? cf. Ps. 2:6).

    If we consider Jesus as King in the abstract, then we are attempting to understand his Lordship apart from the Cross and this is bad news (because as King in the abstract, he is the just Judge of all who do evil); if we consider Jesus as King because of the Cross, then we understand what kind of King he is, and this is good news (because as King on the Cross, he is both just and the one who justifies).

    I think there’s a further destination for all of these comments; I just haven’t got there yet.

  3. John H says:

    Phil: one way of looking at this that I’ve found helpful (I think it comes from J.I. Packer) is that the statement should not be read as saying “Jesus is Lord” so much as “Jesus is Lord”. In other words, the key point is that Jesus upends and deconstructs (or, more accurately, crucifies) our understanding of lordship.

    I like Norman Nagel’s point as cited by Lito: Jesus is Lord because he is Saviour.

    But the point of that is then that if we simply go around saying to people “Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead”, then people will simply hear the words “Jesus is Lord” within the context of a pre-existing understanding of lordship. Which takes us back to my main point: yes, “Jesus is Lord” is a gospel statement, but that’s only because Jesus, as Lord, died for the sins of the world.

  4. Phil Walker says:

    Yep, that’s what I was trying to say. We *can* use that way of speaking, provided we explain how the Cross completely changes our notions of Lordship.

  5. Chris Jones says:

    … the gospel in the New Testament is not simply that “Jesus is Lord and God raised Him from the dead”, but it is also that everyone who believes in that risen Lord Jesus receives forgiveness of sins.

    This, of course, is true. I know NT Wright only by reputation, and Alastair Roberts not at all; so I don’t know what they mean if they say that the NT Gospel is “Jesus is Lord and God raised Him from the dead,” full stop. But folks who emphasize the “Lordship” of Christ so much as if obedience to Him is the entire point of the Gospel are misunderstanding what the NT proclamation of Jesus as Lord actually means.

    The apostolic preaching of Jesus is the proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah “according to the Scriptures”; that is, it is the presentation of Jesus of Nazareth as being Himself the entire point and content of the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus is the one Whom the (OT) Scriptures reveals, and the true intent and meaning of the Scriptures cannot be seen or understood except in light of the Cross and Resurrection. If that is true, then the ascription of the title “Lord” to Jesus must be understood in terms of how that title is used in the (OT) Scriptures.

    And of course, in the Scriptures the term “Lord” (Adonai, ho Kyrios) is a circumlocution for YHWH, the divine Name that is too sacred to be uttered. Men were in awe of the Name itself, and so used the title to refer to the Almighty, the Maker of all. Against that background, for the Apostles to ascribe that same title to Jesus is to say that Jesus is the One whom the Scriptures referred to as “Lord”.

    Thus to say that “Jesus is Lord” is far more than an acknowledgment of His claim on our obedience; it is a confession of His divinity.

  6. John H says:

    Chris: thank you for that. I agree.

    I don’t think Wright (or Alastair) are saying that obedience to Jesus as Lord is the entire point of the gospel. Rather, Wright’s emphasis on the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” has three main aspects:

    1. Opposition to Caesar. The Roman position was that “Caesar is Lord”, so proclaiming that “Jesus is Lord” is to oppose the rule of Caesar (“Jesus is Lord, therefore Caesar isn’t”).

    2. Emphasis on Jesus’ work as going beyond a concern with individual salvation (“going to heaven when you die”), to the renewal of the whole creation.

    3. As a consequence of #1 and #2, the importance of Christians being involved in “justice” issues on a political level.

    It will be noted that #1 is not inconsistent with the assertion of Jesus’ divinity, given that Caesar was increasingly regarded as divine in the eastern Roman empire at that time. Similarly #2 is very much consistent with Jesus’ divinity, because how else could he be Lord of all creation?

    I’m a bit more ho-hum (to say the least) when it comes to #3, even though I happen to share many of Wright’s conclusions on specific political issues.

  7. John H says:

    Both / And.

    Agreed. My difficulty is not with saying that the gospel includes “Jesus is Lord”, but with saying that the gospel can be reduced (in a useful way) to that statement.

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