The reproach of the cross has been a stumbling block, not only for 'Oneness' Pentecostals,
but also for Muslims and free-thinkers, like Thomas Paine. They just don't 'get' it:
". . .but I well remember, when about seven or eight
years of age, hearing a sermon read by a relation of mine, who was a
great devotee of the church, upon the subject of what is called
Redemption by the death of the Son of God. After the sermon was
ended, I went into the garden, and as I was going down the garden
steps (for I perfectly recollect the spot) I revolted at the
recollection of what I had heard, and thought to myself that it was
making God Almighty act like a passionate man, that killed his son,
when he could not revenge himself any other way; and as I was sure a
man would be hanged that did such a thing, I could not see for what
purpose they preached such sermons." (Thomas Paine, The Age of
Reason, Part I, Chapter XIII).
This idea, that the atonement is somehow unworthy or disgraceful, is a common theme
among today's 'New Atheists.'
Ransom for Many
How could even a righteous man's death, if he were but a mere man, have
paid the penalty for a world of lost sinners, each of whom fully
deserved death on his own account? The debt we owed was
infinitely beyond our ability to pay. No mere human being has the wherewithal to pay ransom, for himself or
another: "Those who trust in their wealth and boast in the multitude of their riches,
none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him—
for the redemption of their souls is costly, and it shall cease forever—
that he should continue to live eternally, and not see the Pit."
(Psalm 49:7-9). What man cannot do, God has
promised, He will do: "But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave,
for He shall receive me. (Psalm 49:15).
Only the God-man, Jesus Christ, could pay the price that was due.
Can a mere man save us from the grave? The Bible testifies, no, only God:
"O Israel, you are destroyed, but your help is from Me. I will be your
King; where is any other, that he may save you in all your
cities?...I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues!
O Grave, I will be your destruction! Pity is hidden from My
eyes." (Hosea 13:9-14);
"Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who
forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with
lovingkindness and tender mercies..." (Psalm 103:2-4).
"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last
on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
that in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another." (Job 19:25-27).
Only Jesus Christ, both God and man, can save us: "Do not put your trust
in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help...Happy
is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in
the LORD his God..." (Psalm 146:3-5). We would hope in
vain if we put our trust in the death of a mere man upon the cross.
Each and every human being fully deserved death on account of our own
sins: "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as
well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall
die." (Ezekiel 18:4). All have sinned: "For all have sinned,
and come short of the glory of God..." (Romans 3:23), and deserve
death: "...who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that
those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only
do the same but also approve of those who practice them." (Romans
1:32). One righteous man, if he were no more than a righteous
man, could save only himself, not a whole world of lost sinners:
"'Or if I send a pestilence into that land and pour out My fury
on it in blood, and cut off from it man and beast, even though
Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live,' says the Lord
GOD, 'they would deliver neither son nor daughter; they would
deliver only themselves by their righteousness.'" (Ezekiel 14:19-20).
But the Bible says that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, paid the ransom
for a world of lost sinners:
"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold!
The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'" (John 1:29).
"And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but
also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2).
Consequently, is it not apparent He was no mere man? The law never knew of
any 'recyclable' sacrifices, where the victim was pulled from
the fire, dusted off, and offered up again for another customer.
The worth of this once-and-for-all sacrifice, the Lamb of God,
had to exceed all the wrongs of an erring and rebellious world:
"So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto
them that look for him shall he appear the second time without
sin unto salvation." (Hebrews 9:28). None but man owed
the debt, so Jesus Christ had to be a man; and none but God
had means to repay, so Jesus Christ had to be God.
A mere man cannot transmit his righteousness: "Thus says the LORD of
hosts: 'Now, ask the priests concerning the law, saying, "If
one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the
edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will
it become holy?"' Then the priests answered and said, 'No.'
And Haggai said, 'If one who is unclean because of a dead body
touches any of these, will it be unclean?' So the priests answered
and said, “It shall be unclean.' Then Haggai answered and said,
'"So is this people, and so is this nation before Me," says
the LORD, "and so is every work of their hands; and what they
offer there is unclean."'" (Haggai 2:11-14).
But God can impute His righteousness to His people: "But to him that
works not, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his
faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describes
the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputes righteousness
without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are
forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to
whom the Lord will not impute sin." (Romans 4:5-8). Thus only
God can save: "But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah,
and will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save
them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by
horsemen." (Hosea 1:7). We who put our faith in Him are saved,
not by a mere man, but "by the LORD their God."
In what accounting ledger could the death of a man who was a mere
man pay off the sin debt owed by the entire world? The
arithmetic will not work; only the God-man could pay the immeasurable
debt we had incurred. After counting up the debt humankind
owed God as "something greater than all the universe besides God", Anselm concluded,
"Anselm. Therefore none but God can make this satisfaction.
"Boso. So it appears.
"Anselm. But none but a man ought to do this, otherwise man does not
make the satisfaction."
"Boso. Nothing seems more just.
"Anselm. If it be necessary, therefore, as it appears, that the heavenly
kingdom be made up of men, and this cannot be effected unless
the aforesaid satisfaction be made, which none but God can
make and none but man ought to make, it is necessary for the God-man to make it."
(Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, Book II, Chapter VI).
Some people say that Anselm repositioned the cross as a means of
making feudal satisfaction, i.e., that his system is culture-bound
and of no relevance today. But Anselm wrote at a time when no one
within ear-shot had any living experience of temple sacrifice; the
logic of that system was lost and needed to be recovered and
explained, especially to Muslims who to this day find it
incomprehensible. What the first generation of Jewish Christians
understood quite naturally, thinking in categories of temple
sacrifice, had become difficult and recondite. But to attack the
logic of temple sacrifice is to attack God, who instituted that
system, in order to foreshadow the final, once and for all sacrifice
on the cross.
The Scandal of the Cross
That God condescended to become man and suffer a tortured death on the
cross has always scandalized the pagan world: "To the humanism
of antiquity the crucified Christ and the veneration of him
were also an embarrassment. Crucifixion, as the punishment
of escaped slaves or rebels against the Roman empire, was regarded
as 'the most degrading kind of punishment'. Thus Roman
humanism always felt the 'religion of the Cross' to be unaesthetic,
unrespectable and perverse. 'Let even the name of the cross
be kept away not only from the bodies of the citizens of Rome,
but also from their thought, sight and hearing,' declared Cicero...The
idea of a 'crucified God' to whom veneration and worship were
due was regarded in the ancient world as totally inappropriate
to God...Thus Christian belief in the crucified Christ was found
to produce on Jews and Romans the effect of continued blasphemy.
The early Christians had constantly to defend themselves
against the charge of 'irreligiositas' and 'sacrilegium'." (Jurgen
Moltmann, The Crucified God, Chapter 2, p. 34).
What shocked the world then still shocks today; thus, 'Oneness' Pentecostals
employ the idea that 'God cannot die' as an argument against
the Trinity. But to those who love God, this shocking
fact is priceless testimony of His love for us: "And can it
be that I should gain An int'rest in the Savior's blood? Died
He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die
for me? Amazing love! How can it be That thou, my God, shouldst
die for me?" (And Can it be That I should Gain?, Charles Wesley).
Boso. Infidels ridiculing our simplicity charge upon us that we
do injustice and dishonor to God when we affirm that he descended
into the womb of a virgin, that he was born of woman, that
he grew on the nourishment of milk and the food of men; and,
passing over many other things which seem incompatible with
Deity, that he endured fatigue, hunger, thirst, stripes and
crucifixion among thieves.
"Anselm. We do no injustice or dishonor to God, but give
him thanks with all the heart, praising and proclaiming the
ineffable height of his compassion. For the more astonishing
a thing it is and beyond expectation, that he has restored
us from so great and unmerited blessings which we had forfeited;
by so much the more has he shown his more exceeding love and
tenderness towards us." (Anselm, Cur Deus Homo, Book I, Chapter III).
What the pagans mock and ridicule is just what we praise our God for
all the day long!
The pagans taught the world about "theos apathes", the apathetic god, who
is incapable of suffering. "We say therefore that God is a living being, eternal, most good, so that life and duration continuous
and eternal belong to God; for this is God...But it has also been shown that it is impassive and unalterable..."
(Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book XII, 1072b-1073a).
The 'Oneness' Pentecostals have borrowed a page from the pagan theologians.
They tell us that God is incapable of suffering, and thus a mere man, called 'the Son', must have suffered and died upon
the cross. But where did they learn that God is incapable of suffering? From the Bible?
— No, that information's not found in the Bible. Rather, from pagan theologians like Aristotle.
Competent as the pagan theologians may have been, one should be careful
about adopting their concepts wholesale. The Bible, after
all, teaches that God is love: "He that loveth not knoweth not
God; for God is love." (1 John 4:8). The pagans were quite serious
in denying passions to God, and they knew that love is a passion:
"Friendship occurs where love is offered in return. But
in friendship with God there is no room for love to be offered
in return, indeed there is not even room for love. For
it would be absurd if anyone were to assert that he loved Zeus."
(Aristotle, Magna Moralia II, 1208b, quoted in Jurgen Moltmann,
The Crucified God, p. 268). So if the pagan concept of
the 'apathetic God' ends in denying He can love or be loved
— yet we know from the Bible that He is
love — should we perhaps hesitate to join the 'Oneness' Pentecostals
in borrowing this concept from the generous pagans?
The closest one can come to finding 'theos apathes' in the Bible is Acts
14:15: "And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are
men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should
turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven,
and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein..."
Paul and Barnabas, modestly declining worship as gods, point
out they are men "of like passions" with their would-be worshippers,
implying if they really were gods they would not be "of like
passions". James also speaks of Elijah as a man of "like
passions" with us: "Elias was a man subject to like passions
as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and
it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six
months." (James 5:17). By implication, God is not "subject
to like passions as we are". But does this mean He is subject to no
passion or suffering? Or is He subject to love...and "sympathy"?
Zeus had no friends, but the living God does: "And the scripture
was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed
unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God."
(James 2:23). If we talk about 'love' and 'wrath' as transient
emotions, passing moods, as they are for us, then plainly God is
free from such changes in disposition. This is why we are such
inconstant creatures: we love, but then that mood passes and is
supplanted by annoyance; the next step is divorce court. God is
love. But He also judges. He is not one thing one minute and
something different the next; He perseveres and holds to His course,
as we do not.
"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling
of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we
are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15). The verb translated
"touched with the feeling" is Strong's 4834, 'sympatheo'. It
means what it says: to feel, or suffer (pascho) with (sym).
This is where our word 'sympathize' comes from. 'Theos
apathes', meet the God of the Bible: who 'suffers with' His people!
Ancient modalists like Sabellius were called 'Patripassianists' because
they taught that the Father suffered on the cross. Some modern-day
'Oneness' Pentecostals, by contrast, hotly insist that 'God cannot die',
and that thus 'the Son', a human shell occasionally inhabited by Deity,
But consider: the whole rationale for their novel baptismal formula is
their claim that 'Jesus' is the name of 'the Father.' And the Bible authors
are under the distinct impression a party by that name died upon the cross:
"And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last."
"And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, 'Father,
"into Your hands I commit My spirit."' Having said this, He
breathed His last." (Luke 23:46);
"And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His
spirit." (Matthew 27:50);
"So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, 'It is finished!'
And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit." (John 19:30).
"Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore
is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also
makes intercession for us." (Romans 8:34).
So: the Bible tells us that Jesus died upon the cross, and the 'Oneness'
Pentecostals tells us that Jesus is the name of the Father...but
the 'Oneness' Pentecostals do not believe the Father hung upon the cross. You see, it's not the 'Jesus'
who is the Father who hung upon the cross...but the other one!
"The Father didn't bleed, the Father didn't die -- [that
happened] only in the person of Jesus Christ." (Bishop T. D. Jakes,