*Much of this sermon inspired by Matthew Distefano’s articles at
For those of you experiencing dejavu, yes, we are reading the same Scripture passage from Hebrews today that we read last week. And, yes, we are reading from the book of Revelation here at Lynnhaven Colony.
We don’t normally read from Revelation at LCCC because...well, that’s really up to the preacher ...so, I guess it rests on me and the wonderful people who substitute from time to time. Honestly it’s a book filled with such intense imagery and symbolism that it’s hard to tackle without picking everything apart. But we’re going to pick a little piece apart today.
For instance: the Lord saying, “I am the Alpha & Omega” Did you know that those are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet? So, when you hear that Jesus is the Alpha & Omega, it means that he is the first and the last. He is the Beginning and the End. He is everything. He is the bees’ knees. He is the bomb. (Which is so funny...because I don’t know that bees have knees and I don’t want Jesus to blow up...but, metaphors.)
Today, in the liturgical/church world, is often celebrated as Christ the King Sunday. A Sunday to recognize that Jesus is Christ - the most powerful, the sovereign, and the Alpha and Omega as Revelation states.
So, today we are going to talk about why Jesus is the Beginning and the End.
We also don’t normally read the same scripture two weeks in a row, but maybe we should! After last week, I received so many wonderful and thoughtful questions and comments that I figured “hey, why not?”
Why not address the verses which say, “we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water?”
This wording, and many other places in Scripture similar to it, lead to a theology called substitutionary atonement.
Substitute...you know that, it’s when a teacher takes the place of your regular teacher for the day and you get to watch a movie. Or, one thing is put in place of another.
Atonement….making a wrong right through payment or retribution of some sort. Some writers like to break it down to say you are made “at-one” again.
So, substitutionary atonement theology suggests that by dying on the cross, Jesus was our substitute, suffering in our place, enduring punishment we deserved, in order to make all of humanity’s wrongs right with God. It says that we are made right with God through Jesus’ flesh and blood, his death and suffering.
(I debated handing out a short quiz at the end of worship today, granting honorary Masters of Divinity diplomas for those that passed.)
This is definitely the theology that I was taught...more so as a young adult...and I know many of you were, too.
This is the theology that was explained to me on Campus Crusade tracts that I fervently handed out on campus in undergrad, and I’m sure many of you have seen those as well.
This is the theology that I started to question and I know many of you have as well.
For those of you who hold this theology, please know that I am not about to throw out Jesus as our Messiah, as the Christ, as God Incarnate. PASTOR KIM IS NOT DISCOUNTING JESUS AS OUR SAVIOR! That would be a huge game changer.
I am, though, going to suggest looking at this theology in a different light.
If we maintain that Jesus had to be our substitute for punishment in order for us to be “atoned” or made right with God, we need to also acknowledge some ideas implied by that…
….Is God a debt-collector?
Substitutionary atonement theology implies that God keeps humanity’s records of wrongs (which would be innumerable) and requires “payment” for them. It implies there are not simply consequences to our actions, but punishments. God keeping a record of wrongs is a bit ironic since in 1 Corinthians 13, and in other place, we read about love not keeping a record of wrongs. So, is God in the “not keeping a record of wrongs” camp or not?
Does God demand punishment, or retribution of some sort, for humanity’s wrongs?
….Does God fit the archaic (old) model of blood sacrifices?
For many ancient civilizations, people believed that “the gods” needed sacrifices. Imagine if you didn’t understand volcanoes and all of a sudden fire was spewing out of the earth...perhaps you too would think that the gods were angry.
We read so much in the Hebrew Scriptures (aka, Old Testament) about sacrifices; knowing how intertwined with ancient cultures the people were, it makes sense to wonder what came first...the sacrifices or God’s instructions on the sacrifices.
Years ago I did a Bible study with friends using a book titled “Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?” The main point I remember from that study was that God met the people where they were. The society that they lived in...complete with kingdoms and rulers and wars and sacrifices….that is where God met them and worked with them so that they would understand God’s every-present love.
Which came first...the people’s sacrifices or God’s instructions for sacrifices?
….Would two manifestations of the Trinity, Creator and Christ, be at odds with each other?
In the substitutionary atonement model, we have a Creator Father who requires a blood offering and the Christ, Jesus, who forgives people freely (without any blood being shed).
Can two manifestations of the one God disagree?
If so, which should we follow?
It’s a lot to think about...a lot of important questions to ask.
I offer a few alternative points to consider:
….perhaps Jesus’ death and resurrection was a way for God to save us from our assumptions of sacrifice and ritual so that we could focus more on living as Christ-followers, less on dying.
Perhaps the story isn’t that Jesus’ crucifixion was to save us from a wrathful God, but was to save us from ourselves.
In Jesus’ resurrection, he conquered the fear of death. He shows us that something, some type of “existing,” awaits us after these bodies stop working. If we are freed from the fear of death, how much more can we live - loving one another and acting justly?
Matthew Distefano writes, “To put it in the simplest way I can, the dynamic duo of fear and death are undone by an even more dynamic duo: Love and Resurrection.”
...perhaps Jesus’ death is a subversion, a complete reversal, of the notion of sacrifice
Here, God gives the sacrifice - Jesus is God’s Son. The people don’t offer the sacrifice. We receive the sacrifice and then God is the one who raises Jesus.
It completely flips the then-traditional notions of sacrifice on its head where the people would offer a sacrifice to “the gods.”
An ancient guy from the 2nd century, Clement of Alexandria, wrote “[Christ] came down...for this he willingly endured the sufferings of humanity, that he being reduced to the measure of our weakness, he might raise us to the measure of his power.” (The Exhortations to the Greeks)
Perhaps Jesus’ death was a reversal of power and sacrifice
….perhaps Jesus’ death is a subversion, a complete reversal, of the notion of ritual
in the days before Jesus’ crucifixion, he eats with his disciples and leads what we know as The Lord’s Supper, communion, or the Eucharist.
Bruce Chilton suggests that the words of institution, “This is my body...this is my blood” (Mk 14:22-24) intend to present the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine as substitutes” for the blood sacrifices offered in rituals. (Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel)
Distefano suggests, “That is what we mean by “Christ died for us.” (Rom 4:25; 8:32) He dies for our benefit….To expose the system for what it is—a system predicated on more and more blood and death (Luke 11:49–51)—while yet showing pure grace in the face of it...The beautiful thing about this whole event [of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection] is that Jesus doesn’t simply tell his disciples what not to do, he gives us something to do. We are ritualistic creatures...and as such, need rituals .... But these rituals demand blood. .... Not the Eucharist, however. This new ritual that leads to new community centers on a table, not an altar. It centers on bread and wine, not bodies and blood. It centers, even, on sharing this meal with one’s enemies. Remember, even Judas—the man Jesus knew would betray him—was present and had his feet washed by the Lord (John 13:1–5).” That’s the power of an inclusive gathering. (Matthew Distefano, patheos.com)
Maybe - just maybe - Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection wasn’t so much about appeasing a wrathful God. Maybe it was more about saving humans, us, from our assumptions on how the world works. From Jesus, we learn new ways of treating other humans. We learn that we don’t need to offer blood sacrifices. We learn that a ritual of gathering around a table for a meal is where we find God. These are good things.
It may seem odd - with starting Advent next week - that I’ve talked so much about Jesus’ death/resurrection. You may think “preacher! He hasn’t been born yet! That’s normally Easter talk.”
And that’s true in our church calendar...yet, we have to understand why we celebrate Jesus of Nazareth’s birth.
Truly, he is the ultimate incarnation of God’s love and justice and mercy. Jesus is the way - following his truth-filled teachings leads us to overcoming the darkness in this world with the light of love. It is a beautiful story of God interacting with our world, guiding us toward truth; and so we remember and celebrate Jesus’ earthly birth and arrival into this world each Advent and Christmas season.
Christ is truly the Alpha and Omega. Amen.
Scripture: Revelation 1:4b-8; Hebrews 10:11-25