There are several theories of atonement. What I mean is there are many ways of explaining what it is Jesus accomplished exactly when he died and rose from the grave. Now, for most of my life I’ve only heard one of those: Jesus paid the price for my sins that I could not pay – He took my place and my punishement. That’s called “substitutionary atonement.” Jesus was literally my substitute. And that’s true. But canceling a debt of mine wasn’t the only thing He accomplished.
I just bumped into another one today. It probably has some fancy name but I don’t know it. Maybe you do?
I was reading about the tower of Babel. Here’s the story in a nutshell. Some people decided to build a city with a tall tower so they could make a name for themselves.
GENESIS 11:5-7 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
And God did just that. He divided mankind by language. Community, connection and progress were inhibited in the process.
Prior to causing this confusion – I think it might be important to remember – God said that when mankind is unified “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” There’s power in unity.
Long after Babel, a lot of years and languages later, Jesus is born into a culturally and religiously fragmented society, lives a perfect life, is executed for treason, is buried, walks out of his tomb three days later and then leaves the planet. But before he leaves, he promises help is on its way: the Spirit of God is coming to comfort and guide those who follow him. And it/she does arrive.
In the book of Acts – the story of the earliest Christians in the days just after Jesus left them – we read about a strange miracle that took place on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit descended, looking like fire, and entered the followers of Jesus. One symptom of this filling was that they could be understood by people from other language groups who were watching the scene unfold.
Mankind – for a moment and to a degree – was united. Language, for an instant, was no longer a barrier. Community, connection and progress were greater possibilities again. God reversed his decision at Babel for this small group of Christ followers. Unity replaced division. And this was powerful.
What did they do with this power? In the very next section of Acts it says two things happened: First, Peter told the onlookers the story of Jesus’ life, closing by asking them to “repent” (shift their allegiance to Jesus and away from everything else). About three thousand listened, did what he said and were baptized. Unified by their faithfulness to Christ and the Spirit of God, a new powerful community was born. Then, the bible says…
ACTS 2:42-47 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship (community), to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common (unity). Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need (progress). Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (more progress).
Jesus didn’t just forgive sins on the cross. He did lots of other stuff too, like create sacrificial community that was so powerful it eradicated hunger and poverty within its ranks, was a conduit for the miraculous, prayed and ate together. And they were liked by people. Unity, power and radical generosity are pretty dang attractive in a world full of division and differences, after all. Even more magnetic than a building, a good speaker, a killer band and a great playground.
I just connected these dots. Not sure about any of this. What do you think?