The Death of Ritual Murder
We testify to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was crucified, died, and was buried. He came back from the dead on the third day, and He did so in accordance with the Scriptures. This we confess, and confess gladly. But it is not enough to declare that Jesus is risen; we must also declare the ramifications of this stupendous fact.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).
Many modern apologists think of the resurrection as a datum needing to be proven. It is challenged by unbelievers, and so we marshal our arguments to show that Jesus did too rise from the dead. This can be appropriate, in its place, but we should never forget that the New Testament treats the resurrection, not as something demanding proof, but rather as something that is a proof. Who is Jesus? He was declared, with power, to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). The resurrection is not waiting around to be established; the resurrection establishes. In this passage, the thing that is established by the resurrection is the fact that Jesus Christ will judge the world. He will judge the world, we are assured, because God the Father raised Him from the dead. This is how we know that the world will be judged “in righteousness.” This is our basis for telling men that continuation in ignorance is no longer acceptable, but rather that God now commands all men everywhere to repent. This command comes in the resurrection, and it is the nature of this command that we will consider this morning.
The Standard of Judgment:
We must not assume that if Jesus is going to judge the world on the basis that we automatically know what His judgment will look like. It is far too glib and facile to say that His resurrection shows that He has a lot of power, and that it would certainly take a lot of raw power to judge the world, and so He will judge the world just like anyone else around here would, only bigger and stronger. No. The resurrection does not just show that He has the authority to judge (though He most certainly does), it also reveals something to us about the nature of the standard to be used, and the nature of the saving blessing contained within His judgment. The message is not “Jesus is coming again, and boy, is He mad.” Who is this judge? He is the resurrected victim of a judicially-rigged murder. Christ is returning, and He is returning with deliverance from our ways of death disguised as justice. Prior to that return, He commands His people to declare His standards of justice, His ways of justice, which are completely contrary to the pagan ways of death. Because the sin we must be delivered from is the sin of confounding the Spirit of God, the comforter, with the spirit of Satan, the accuser. And that is quite a confusion—one that the resurrection dispels entirely.
The name of Satan means accuser. He is the one who delights in pointing the finger at unrighteousness. He is the accuser of the brethren, day and night (Rev. 12:10). He is the one who comes into the presence of God, prepared to accuse Job (Job 1:6-11). The word devil renders the word diabolos, which means “slanderer, blasphemous accuser.” Satan delights in juggling turmoil, stirring up trouble, circulating false reports, encouraging people to cut others absolutely no slack. This is his way. But this is done to a purpose; it is not just mischievous and impish behavior. Pagan civilizations have always been built on the bedrock of scapegoating murder—this kind of turmoil is managed until it gets to a crisis point, and then everyone wheels on the designated victim. The murder of this victim introduces peace, catharsis after the sacrificial and ritual murder. These were ritual murders that used to work. From Oedipus at Thebes, to Remus at Rome, to Julius Caesar in Rome, we see this happen over and over. For the carnal man, this is the most natural thing in the world. Accusation equals guilt, and condemnation for him equals salvation for us. This is satanic—but do not confuse this satanism (as biblically defined) with things ghoulish.
Some Bad Manners from the Psalmist:
From beginning to end, the Scriptures stand squarely against this pagan mentality—the mentality that is always serene and self-confident about the guilt of the designated victim. Consistently, from Genesis through to the end of the Bible, the Scriptures tell this same story from the vantage point of the innocent victim. This mechanism that is found in all pagan societies is also found throughout Scripture—the difference is that Scripture consistently tells the story from the other side, the side of the one falsely accused. Think of Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused. Think of Job, falsely accused by Satan in the heavenly courts, and by his so-called comforters here on earth. Think of all the prophets, from Abel to Zechariah, son of Berechiah.
And think of the psalmist, usually King David. In Stalinist show trials (essentially pagan) part of the drill was to get the accused to accuse himself as well, as a vindication of “the system.” See, the system works! But the psalmist, frequently the designated victim of an approaching lynching, is about as uncooperative as a victim can get. And we see here a deep irony in the problems that many modern Christians have with the psalms of imprecation and psalms of protested innocence. We think the language is over the top. The man is sitting on the back of a horse, hands tied behind his back, and a rope around his neck. He looks at the bulls of Bashan round about and calls them a brood of snakes. Tsk, we think. That language there was a little intemperate.
The Real Issue:
Another important detail we can see in the Scriptures is the fact that the divide is not between prince and peon, but rather between accuser and accused. Sometimes the accuser is slave girl (think of Peter), and sometimes the accuser is a prince of the people (think of Caiphas). Sometimes the accused is entirely defenseless (think of John the Baptist) and sometimes he is the king (think of David). The issue is biblical justice versus worldly justice, always.
The Scandal of the Cross:
Wicked accusers have bad consciences. It was not for no reason that Herod assumed that Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life. And because of this, the resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate bad news for the “respectability of human justice.” The resurrection of Jesus was the death of false accusation; it was the death of carnal civilization; it was the death of death. In the resurrection, Jesus finally and completely crushed the head of the lying, enticing, accusing serpent. The resurrection of Jesus is therefore for our justification (Rom. 4:25). This is not condemnation—it is only condemnation for those who cling to the old satanic order, which is teetering.
Now because Christ is raised, we are enabled to walk in the power of His resurrection (Rom. 6:8). “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling [scandal] in him” (1 John 2:9-10). The cross is a scandal to worldly justice because worldly justice is a scandal to the ways of God. Therefore, love one another.