Over the Easter weekend, I had the opportunity to listen to two preachers speaking about atonement: how salvation comes to us through what happened during Jesus’ crucifixion. Though they spoke on the same theme, these two fellows were very different in their approach, tone, and even theology.
What struck me was how their personalities and presentations lined up with their messages. I bumped into both of these sermons on Facebook. Neither of these preachers is particularly well-known. One was speaking to his Sunday morning congregation. The other was speaking at a conference with what appeared to have 300-500 attendees. Neither of them would fall into the “famous” category.
Preacher A’s voice rang with great authority. His gestures were sharply defined and abrupt. He spoke with passion, emphasizing Isaiah 53:10 “Yet it pleased the Lord to crush Him,” and gave the impression that God took pleasure in seeing his Son suffering for sin (as we might take pleasure in beholding a spectacular feature of nature). Somehow, as Christ was on the cross, God stood afar off pouring out His wrath and taking satisfaction in His Son’s suffering.
The preacher used an illustration I’ve heard before: Imagine a great dam, a thousand miles wide and a thousand miles high, suddenly breaking and the wrath of God crashing down on the crucified Son. The last straw was that God turned His back as Jesus bore the weight of the world’s sin.
He wrestled with the idea of infinity: the infinite holiness of God; the infinite awfulness of sin; the infinite price of reconciliation, and the language necessary to describe it. He encouraged his listeners to seek understanding of these unknowable things and allow themselves to be broken that God might remake them afresh.
Preacher B’s demeanour was a little more gentle. He, too, spoke of the horror of the cross: the fact that Jesus suffered enormously there, but his take on that suffering was different. He emphasized that it was God’s will (not His pleasure) that Jesus be crushed by the weight of sin. He painted God as never ceasing to be the loving Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He pointed out that while Jesus uttered the opening words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” the passage also includes the words: “For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard” (vs 24 NKJV), which all of the Jewish onlookers at the crucifixion would have known. Though the psalmist felt abandoned by God at the beginning of the Psalm, by the end, he affirms that God never left him. He reminded his audience “that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (2Co 5:19 NKJV).
He emphasized the unity between Father, Son, and Spirit in the work of atonement. He encouraged his listeners to seek God’s heart—a heart of love that compelled Him to take the sin of the world on Himself (in the person of the Son) that they might go free.
Each man had clear opinions about the cited verses. Both had searched the Scriptures. I expect
both of them prayed over their study and the fruit it might bear. Yet, their emphases were different, as were their presentations and personalities.
My purpose here is not to contribute to the debate regarding the atonement, but to observe that one of two things seems to at work: either the messenger affects the message, or the message affects the messenger.
The questions I have, then, are these: When I come to Scripture,
1) am I aware that I might be looking for theological positions which appeal to my personality?
2) to what degree do I invite it to change me?
These questions have significant ramifications for all of us who speak for God, and we all do. I’d be interested in reading comments with insights and examples regarding this.