Last week I framed the metaphor of the three-sided cage in a poetic style to open us to experience rather than cognition. The universal power of liberation is accessed via leaving experiences, not through strategy and theory. Easter is a story of letting go.
For many Christians, everything is filtered through a Jesus-O-meter. On Easter, it’s pegged in the red zone as pastors try and prove the historicity of the substitutionary atonement story line. Contemporary christianity sees Easter as Jesus dying for the sins of those who believe. This creates what I call “Teeter-Totter” faith: in order to exalt Jesus on one side, sins are piled higher on the other.
The problem is that every honest believer knows their sins still remain and no amount of faith or religious activity has freed them (Romans 7:24-25). Thus liberation from sin is jettisoned to the afterlife and “shampoo” faith sets in: sin, wash, repeat.
What if Easter is not liberation from sin, but liberation despite sin? Jesus’ death was not to evacuate us from a sinful humanity, but to model a way back into true humanity. For many, this sounds too good to be true, or just plain wrong? I’ll come back to this in a minute.
The power of Easter is not in the doctrine of the atonement, but in the experience of leaving a tomb. I’m not denying the atonement. Jesus’ death is the means of atonement for everyone, but not its purpose. It’s purpose is to liberate the captive.
Life abounds with countless systems that entomb and control us. Jesus life was no exception. His mission was liberation (healing). In scripture this is called the Gospel. It comes from Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 which define it as the opening of the prison doors, the liberation of the captive, good news to the poor, and the favor of the Lord.
The establishment is always disappointed in Jesus because he doesn’t fit into its “Messiah” molds. The Jews defined liberation nationally. Modern Christians define liberation spiritually. Jesus defines liberation individually as seen in stories of the blind, lame, poor, zealots, religious leaders, centurions, widows, women, tax collectors, fishermen, kings, lepers, and adulterers. They all gained something on the inside that changed the outside. That is the entire point.
Jesus is subversive because liberation is subversive. His message stands right in the face of institutional power as well as the marginalized. Liberation meant something different to each person, but the same work was done within each. He called them out of the framework that imprisoned them.
Liberation (healing) is the movement from system to kingdom. Scripture calls this change in our mental framework “metanoia” or repentance.
Now back to sin.
Religion makes repentance exclusively about sin. Pastors all over are telling us that if we don’t repent, we will not be free or forgiven by God. Jesus didn’t seem to see it that way. He only required the religious to repent from sin, everyone else he was content to liberate and by default their sins were forgiven (Mark 2:8).
This might shock you, but our sins are not what keep us from freedom, it’s our lack of faith despite them. Biblically speaking, sin is the opposite of faith (Rom 14:23). Religion makes it a part of its meritocratic framework. It’s not that the Kingdom has no sin, its that sin has no power in it. Remember the kingdom is here. It appears when we have the faith to leave the system.
Whether you are a fundamentalist like the Pharisee, or a skeptic like the invalid, whether you are close to Jesus like the disciples or distant like the crowds, whether you share his religion or have none at all, the result is the same. The bars that we cling to are no longer able to keep us in because the power that rolled Jesus’ stone away, rolled ours away too. Easter means our captors (sin or otherwise) only have the power we abdicate to them. We can walk away if we want to.
If the Easter story is how Jesus bore the retribution of God for the sins of humanity, then God can no longer be in the retribution business. The opened tomb is proof that restoration and liberation are the design of Easter, not retribution and repentance. May our anthropology comport with Easter.
Today if you can see your cages, then know you can leave them. The Gospel is not that Jesus died for our sins, but that though our sins are many, they are not held against us (Psalm 103:10). If we will just trust the voice of freedom that calls us, we can let go of our bars and walk right out into new life, even as a sinner.