Updated: May 20, 2021
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Luke 23:33-46
Jesus' death on the cross demonstrates God's love for us by making a way for our sins to be forgiven and our relationship with God to be restored. The two thieves who were crucified with Jesus show us our responses: reject Jesus and be lost, or repent and return to Jesus and be saved. How will you respond?
And he said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
Long Post -- Don't Worry! Like last week, this post has gone long, but don't worry! I've tackled three deep subjects in here that the published lesson doesn't cover, and you can skim through them. Really, the main part of this post is actually shorter than usual.
Our Last Suffering of Jesus Lesson for a While
If you feel like we've been talking about the suffering of Jesus for more than a month, you're not wrong. We've been all around this topic since Easter. But -- it's the most important single event in human history. There's very little that we should devote more time and study to if we truly want to understand the value of our relationship with God.
It's also a very complex topic that will require going through some difficult Christian doctrine, so I want to jump right into it. Any brain-starting activity must be kept short just to give yourself a chance to get through the entire passage. Here's a quick idea:
Getting Started: Things to Think About
Heroic Self-Sacrifices in Fiction and History
Because of Jesus, the idea of the hero sacrificing himself for others has become a mainstay in storytelling (and an easy way to tell the difference between a "good" hero and a "great" hero). Off the top of your head, think of examples of such sacrifices in movies you've seen.
For my examples, I'm going to revel in being a child of the 80s. Can you top my awesome list? Obi Wan Kenobi. The Terminator from T2? Spock from The Wrath of Khan (criminally underrated movie)! Crazy Cousin Eddie from Independence Day? Tom Hank's captain from Saving Private Ryan. (Well, and of course Iron Man.)
There are so many more examples you can come up with. (But no, Jack from Titanic doesn't count because THERE WAS ROOM ON THE DOOR.)
In literature, the list is even longer. If you haven't re-read The Giving Tree (Shel Silverstein) as an adult, prepare for your heart to be crushed. There's Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities. Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms (yes, that's debatable). Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (yes, I know he's modelled directly after Jesus, but it still counts). Ellidyr in The Black Cauldron (I loved that series when I was a kid). Literally everybody in The Lord of the Rings (though some survived).
Of course, all of those pale in comparison with the men and women who actually sacrificed themselves for others in real history. The stories from 9/11 are so well-known as to have become legendary. But if you Google "Heroic sacrifice WWII", you'll find so many incredible stories (and not just about WWII) that will certainly bring you to tears. I learned about "The Chernobyl Three" who prevented that from becoming an even worse disaster. I learned about people who gave up their seats on the lifeboats on the Titanic and the Lusitania.
And there are so many martyrs in Christian history who willingly died for their conviction about Jesus, and the church exists today because of the seeds they planted. ("The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.")
This week, we are going to talk about the greatest sacrifice of them all.
Our Context in Luke
We covered Matthew's version of these events back in 2017:
and I'll refer to that as we go. Let's remember the story.
Last week, we covered Jesus' trial before the Jewish leaders (well, we focused on Peter's denial). But we've only tangentially discussed the public part of this complex trial.
After High Priest Caiaphas convinced the Sanhedrin that Jesus deserved death, they had to ship Him off to Pilate -- only the Roman authority could sign off on an execution. There, the Jewish leaders did all sorts of mental gymnastics to find a charge that would make Pilate want to execute Jesus, which Pilate easily saw through. Pilate did everything he could to stall this decision -- sending Jesus to Herod, having Jesus flogged, -- but when he tried to use the Passover custom of releasing a prisoner, the Jewish leaders incited the crowd to ask for Barabbas, a known murderer. Pilate showed his true colors by caving in to the mob.
While all of this was going on, Jesus was being tortured. I love this painting by Dean Cornwell for the indifference of the soldiers (Jesus was just another in a long line of prisoners they would beat and execute that week), but it makes Jesus way too clean. By the time Pilate presented Him to the crowd (this scene -- Ecce Homo -- "Behold the Man"), Jesus had been physically beaten. He had been flogged, shredding the skin on His back. He had had a robe put on and then removed, ripping off the skin that had coagulated to it. He had had a crown of thorns put on His head (not gently). The Passion of the Christ probably created the most indelible images of this for us:
By the time Jesus was commanded to carry His own cross to the place of His execution, He had lost so much blood that He couldn't do it. The Romans conscripted a man from Cyrene named Simon to carry it for Him. (Note the critical irony: it's not Simon Peter who is there for Jesus. It's a totally random Simon. Jesus' close friends were nowhere to be found.)
[Aside: The Passion of the Christ leaned into a common perception that Jesus dragged His cross like in the picture above. That's almost certainly not what happened. The vertical beam was being prepared at the place of execution. Jesus would have carried the cross beam (which was heavy enough)].
Part 1: Focused (Luke 23:33-34)
33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided his clothes and cast lots.
Luke used the Greek term for "skull" here instead of the Aramaic term "Golgotha" that Matthew and Mark used in deference to his Greek-reading audience. (Our word "Calvary" comes from the Latin translation of "skull".)
Whereas American executions take place in private, Roman did their executions in public -- often lining major thoroughfares with crucifixion victims as a deterrence to anyone who might consider opposing their authority. Consequently, this place ("the Skull") would have been a prominent location (but more on that below).
Again, take a look at my Matthew post linked above if you want to learn more about Roman crucifixion. It was the worst way to die, if we want to rank those things.
Where Luke called the two others "criminals" (literally "doers of evil"), Matthew and Mark used a term that meant "thief". But really, we don't know anything about them.
For this first section, you would cover as much about crucifixion as you can stomach, and you might also do a special study of what's often called "the seven last sayings of Jesus", three of which are noted in our passage this week:
Luke 23:34: Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.
Luke 23:43: Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.
John 19:26-27: Woman, here is your son. / Here is your mother.
Matthew 27:46: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
John 19:28: I’m thirsty.
John 19:30: It is finished.
Luke 23:46: Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.
Put them all together. What are they saying? In a few places, you'll have to check where Jesus is quoting the Old Testament. What's the total message for us?
The strangely specific mention of the soldiers casting lots for His clothing is in fulfillment of Psalm 22:18. It doesn't mean that the soldiers actually wanted His garments; it was just something that bored executioners did. Remember -- crucifixions could last for days. John explains this a little better: basically, they took His possessions (the little He had on Him when He was arrested) and divided them amongst themselves (there were four of them). But the linen undergarment was nice enough that they didn't want to cut it up, so they gambled for it.
Aside: The Skull - Calvary
On this map (and many like it), you'll see a place called "Golgotha" and a place called "Gordon's Calvary". The Bible tells us that Jesus was crucified near Jerusalem (John 19:20), outside the walls (Heb 13:12), and on a main road (Matt 27:39). For a long time, it was generally assumed to be at a location marked by The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (see below), a tradition that dates back to the 4th century. Emperor Constantine had the church built to encompass both the presumed site of Jesus' crucifixion and Jesus' burial (conveniently located close to one another). But in the 19th century, another location very close to a garden tomb that included a rock formation that actually looked like a skull (see below right) was labeled as a second possibility ("Gordon's Calvary").
The modern debate seems to have devolved into a fight for tourist dollars, but the truth is that a pilgrim can go to either site (or both!) and pay appropriate respect.
Part 2: Mocked (Luke 23:35-39)
35 The people stood watching, and even the leaders were scoffing: “He saved others; let him save himself if this is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him. They came offering him sour wine 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 An inscription was above him: This Is the King of the Jews. 39 Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
Seriously. As Jesus hangs dying but still asking God to forgive what is being done to Him, the bystanders are mocking Him (the word means ridicule or sneer)! I can't think of a worse look for these leaders.
In this group were random travelers, some of Jesus' followers, and Jewish leaders. The depravity of the leaders is shocking.
The mock is particularly cutting. Could not Jesus demonstrate His power and authority and save Himself? Of course He could. Why didn't He? This is quite literally the same temptation the devil gave Him at the beginning of His ministry, and Jesus resisted it then.
The mention of "sour wine" ("wine vinegar") also fulfilled a prophecy -- from Psalm 69:21. I'm tempted to suggest bringing in a little vinegar and tasting a tiny amount, but you would have to be so careful. Vinegar, if it's not watered down, is severely acidic and could easily inflame your stomach. But if you do water it down and try a small amount, it would get the point across just how cruel this was on the part of the soldiers. Believe it or not, soldiers drank it to help pass the time.
John tells us more about the inscription (John 19:20). Pilate personally ordered that the be placed above Jesus' head in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek (the most common spoken languages in the region). Incessant in their self-absorption, the Jewish leaders complained to Pilate about even the wording of this sign. But Pilate was long done with them; this was his meekly pathetic way of expressing his dissatisfaction with the ordeal.
The behavior of the one criminal is strange, at least to me. You're really going to spend your dying breaths insulting another man?
[An I-Can't-Help-It Aside: Ricardo Montalban can get away with that in Wrath of Khan ("With my last breath, I spit at thee") because he's a broken, bitter man with a heart filled with nothing but hate and vengeance. But this guy on the cross, what's his deal?]
Matthew (27:44) mentions that both of the criminals heaped insults on Him. I have a theory about this that I'll save for the next section.
Aside: What Actually Happened on the Cross?
Somewhere during this lesson, you will want to talk about the purpose of the crucifixion. That basically turns into a discussion of the word "atonement". This is a foundational Christian doctrine (because it attempts to understand how salvation happened), and there are many different ways it is understood. Let me give a way-too-brief summary of the different viewpoints.
Atonement is a concept that goes back to the beginning of the Jewish people. They do something that offends God, and they need to make good on their error through an inward change (repentance) and an outward action (a sacrifice). We can think of the action ("to make atonement") as a means by which we avert God's punishment through a payment, generally called a "ransom".
Unfortunately, the ancient Jewish people tended to focus on the outward action, and thus participated in the sacrificial system as a kind of "get out of hell free" scheme. God, of course, knew that this would happen, and had planned since before the foundation of the world that Jesus would willingly offer the perfect atonement for all human sin. Today, we understand that the flawed Jewish sacrificial practices pointed clearly to our need for a perfect sacrifice.
The word "atonement" just means "reparation for a wrong". That's kind of vague. The Bible does not attempt to explain in detail what that means as far as Christian salvation is concerned, but the Bible does say this:
Christ turned away (propitiated) the wrath of God (Rom 3:25).
Christ suffered the human penalty for sin (Rom 6:23).
Christ paid the price that would set us free (Gal 5:1).
Christ won our victory (1 Cor 15:55).
Animal sacrifice cannot atone for human sin (Heb 10:4).
Christ's sacrifice set an example for us (1 Pet 2:21).
Over the years, theologians have focused on individual verses to create different theories about the atonement. And at the end of the day, each of those theories attempts to answer the question -- "How can a holy God accept sinful people?"
The Moral Influence Theory. This is popular among liberal camps. In short, this view says that Jesus' sacrifice did not "do" anything other than demonstrate how much God loves sinners, and by thinking about that sacrifice, people will be encouraged to repent of their sin and return to their loving Father and be saved. There is a certain amount of truth to this -- it does demonstrate God's love for us (John 3:16)! But there are a whole lot of ways God could have proved His love without Jesus going to the cross, and the Gospels are clear that Jesus must go to the cross.
[This theory is popular among liberal scholars because it emphasizes God's love and deemphasizes God's wrath. I'll talk a little more about this below when I mention the controversy around the Getty song "In Christ Alone".]
Christus Victor (Atonement as Victory). In this theory, the cross is victory over Satan and evil. Jesus was stronger than Satan and death, and so He could not stay dead. (There's a version of this theory that focuses on the idea that Jesus was a ransom paid to Satan, and then Jesus conquered Satan. The problem there is that Satan did not hold humanity hostage; our own sin did.) There is truth to this theory too -- by dying on the cross, Jesus won our victory over sin and death (and in the process took away the power of the devil). But there has to be some accounting for the price that was paid, not just the final result. In other words, the cross was more than a simple victory.
The Satisfaction Theory. This theory follows this logic: God is a king. When a king is insulted, satisfaction must be given. But because this particular king is also God, the offense in infinite, requiring an infinite satisfaction. Humans cannot pay that -- only God can. Therefore, Jesus (God the Son) came to earth to pay the satisfaction for the offense to God caused by our sin. There's truth to this -- a price had to be paid. There are two main problems with this theory: it doesn't explain why God couldn't simply have mercy and forgive the offense; it also doesn't explain how sinners "appropriate" the atonement for themselves. (Plus, it makes God out to be a petty, prideful ruler.)
The Penal Substitution Theory. In this theory, sin is not so much offending God's honor but breaking God's law. And the price for breaking God's law is death. The only way we could get out of the punishment we earned for ourselves by breaking God's law would be in somebody served the punishment in our place. On the cross, Jesus took the punishment we deserve and, being God, was able to serve that punishment for every human who ever lived. You might recognize that we use this kind of language when we talk about the atonement at FBC. The liberal crowd doesn't like this view because it acknowledges that a price must be paid for sin, that sin must have consequences.
The Sacrifice Theory. Some people focus on the fact that Jesus, "the Lamb of God", was the perfect once-for-all sacrifice that ended the Old Testament sacrificial system. The author of Hebrews makes a very convincing case for this. Paul even called Jesus "our Passover" -- remember that all of this took place at Passover. But then they conclude that all Jesus did on the cross was provide that sacrifice. As with all of these, there is truth to this. But it does not explain how such a sacrifice saves us.
Summary. There are others, but those are the main ones. What I hoped to make clear in that oversimplified summary is that each one tells part of the story of the atonement. Let's review some things we should all agree on:
Our sin deserves God's punishment. God hates sin. It has ruined His good creation and the people He loves. His holiness demands that sin must be dealt with. There can be no debate that Jesus suffered God's wrath on the cross. The New Testament calls what Jesus did a "propitiation" that turned aside God's wrath (see Rom 3:25, 1 John 4:7). He bore our curse (Gal 3:10-14, 1 Pet 2:24). And He did so to rescue us from God's coming wrath (1 Thess 1:10). That final statement tells us that in bearing the penalty for our sin, Jesus has made atonement on our behalf. That leads to the next primary point:
Jesus was our substitute. If we are to think of the sacrificial system as an innocent animal being offered in the place of the human sinner, then Jesus was the perfect sacrifice offered in our place. The key point is that God offered Jesus as a sacrifice on our behalf (Rom 8:31-34, 2 Cor 5:21). By dying in our place, Jesus enabled us to be reconciled with God (2 Cor 5:19, 1 Pet 3:18).
Jesus' death (and resurrection) has implications for the entire universe. Adam brought the effects of the curse for his sin to all of creation (Rom 8:22). Because of Jesus, there is now coming a restoration of the heavens and earth -- there will not just be a new humanity in heaven, but there will be a new earth. The "god of this age" (Satan) who has power over the fallen inhabitants of this world (2 Cor 4:4, 2 Tim 3:26) has been defeated. Christ has achieved victory over sin and death and hell (1 Cor 15:27-28), allowing us to return to God as God originally designed (Rev 21:3).
Implications. On the cross, Jesus paid the price for our sin. He absorbed the wrath that God must have against sin. He took our place. And because it was the perfect sacrifice, it broke the power of sin and death. Jesus could not stay dead -- He rose in victory. And God not only graciously accepted that sacrifice, He also allowed us access to the victory that Jesus won. Let me give some excerpts from Romans 3:
Is God unrighteous to inflict wrath? Absolutely not! Otherwise, how will God judge the world? . . . For we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin, as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. . . .
But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, attested by the Law and the Prophets. The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented him as the mercy seat by his blood, through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be just and justify the one who has faith in Jesus.
That final statement is the last piece of the puzzle for us. Jesus' atonement is available to the person who has faith in Jesus. Yes, Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, but if you don't have faith in Jesus (meaning -- you believe He is the Son of God, that He died for your sins, that only His sacrifice can pay the price for your sins, and that He is your Lord and Savior) then His sacrifice does not apply to you. Think of it this way -- when you die, you're going to stand before God. God is going to ask you to account for all of your sins. Then He will ask you if you want Jesus to pay that price for you. If you say no, what do you think happens?
Part 3: Trusted (Luke 23:40-43)
40 But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? 41 We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Remember how Matthew said that both criminals originally insulted Jesus? Well, at some point, one of the two has a change of heart and defends Jesus. I actually think this is very important. The two criminals encapsulate the human response to Jesus. Each of us is born a sinner; each one of us rebels against God. One of these two criminals was clearly a hardened, God-hating sinner, and the other one went along with it at first (what else was he going to do?). But over the hours, as he watched how Jesus behaved, as he heard what Jesus said, and as he saw what was happening around them, he realized that he was wrong about Jesus. There, on his cross, in the final moments of his life, he repented and turned to Jesus. He didn't understand the finer arguments about salvation and atonement like I laid out above, and he didn't need to. He simply realized that he deserved his punishment, but that Jesus (who was the Messiah) might have mercy on him. Clearly, that was enough.
The picture of the three crosses is actually a beautiful picture of the gospel. In the center is the cross of Christ, where Jesus paid the price for our sins -- the punishment we deserve. On one side is a person who rejects Christ. On the other side is a person who repents of his sin and trusts in Christ.
It's a reminder to us that as long as someone is breathing, that someone can be saved. Never give up on those people in your life you fear are too far from God.
Aside: What Happens When You Die?
This is probably the biggest question that will come out of this passage. (I think the discussion about atonement is more important for reasons I'll spell out below, but people really get hung up on this one.)
The question basically takes a form like this: when you die, do you go immediately into the presence of God, or do you wait "in the ground" until Jesus comes back?
Verse 43 is the key verse to indicate that when a Christian dies, that person immediately "wakes up" in the presence of Jesus. But, "Today you will be with me in paradise" is defensibly vague.
Actually, the Bible doesn't say much about the "process" of death. You might remember from our Old Testament studies that the Jews spoke of Sheol as "the place of the dead". The Old Testament is clear that death was not a part of God's original creation but rather a consequence of the curse of sin. Because it was seen as a spiritual separation from God (Ps 6:5-6, Isa 38:18), it became associated with the unrighteous dead (Ps 49:14, Prov 5:5, Isa 5:14). But there was really no consensus about the fate of the righteous dead. There was a belief of the resurrection of the righteous to eternal life (Deut 32:39, Dan 12:2, Isa 26:19), but not much about what we would call "the intermediate state" between physical death and final resurrection. The Psalmist believed he would not endure Sheol (Ps 16:10, 49:15), but didn't explain any alternative.
Btw, that lines up well with what we know to be true. We know that Jesus is returning. And when He returns, all of the dead will be raised and face judgment. Those who are with Jesus will be admitted to the new heaven and earth, and those who are against Jesus will be cast into the lake of fire. (See 1 Cor 15 and Rev 20; note that the role of the Millennium is a bit of a mystery.) But that doesn't tell us what happens "in the meantime".
Jesus gives us the best overview of the old Hebrew understanding in His story about the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). There, Jesus says the rich man is being tormented in "Hades", and Lazarus is being comforted in "the bosom of Abraham". And, there is a chasm between them that cannot be crossed. I am one of those who believe that this story isn't just a parable but a glimpse into the intermediate state. Why? Well, let's look at the little else the New Testament says.
Death is not some painless transition in which we "escape" our bodies. That was a part of the gnostic heresy that Paul combated in 1 Corinthians 15 in which he made it clear that we will experience a physical resurrection. We are not whole when we are not in our body. But leaving our bodies is scary, and it may be painful.
[I just posted our 2018 study from Galatians 5 explaining the difference between "body" and "spirit" and how we are both.]
Death is sometimes compared to "sleep" (John 11:11, 1 Cor 11:30, 1 Thess 4:15), but that doesn't necessary confirm the doctrine sometimes called "soul sleep" which teaches that when we die, our souls "go to sleep" and the "wake up" when Jesus calls us out of the grave to face judgment. The clearest refutation of this is Paul's declaration that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8).
The consummation of all things doesn't happen until the very end of history when God destroys death and hell (Rev 21). Until that final battle is fought, no one can say that "we have arrived". In other words, whatever happens before that moment is transitory.
Here's what I do with all of that. When a Christian dies, that person's soul is taken to the presence of Jesus immediately. But it's just a temporary arrangement -- we won't be "gathered around the throne of God in the new heaven and earth in our resurrected bodies" until after all of the events of Revelation take place. But that's nothing to worry about! We will be with Jesus! The critical thing is this: time has no meaning in death. Don't worry if that doesn't make sense because we can't understand it anyway. The passage of time is meaningless when we die, so if the events of Revelation take place tomorrow or ten thousand years from now, we won't know the difference. We will be with Jesus; Jesus will be sent back to conquer His enemies; we will be reunited with our resurrection body.
Take heart in that. If your loved one who has passed on was a Christian, that loved one is with Jesus. He or she is still "waiting" for the last trumpet, and that's okay. Being with Jesus is the best place to be.
Part 4: Sacrificed (Luke 23:44-46)
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three, 45 because the sun’s light failed. The curtain of the sanctuary was split down the middle. 46 And Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” Saying this, he breathed his last.
Luke said that it was "the sixth hour", which would mean noon by our reckoning. For three hours during the middle of the day, "the sun's light failed". That Greek word is also used of an eclipse, but an eclipse would have been impossible (Passover was associated with a full moon). However, Greeks also used the word to indicate when the sun unexpectedly grew dark (this is why some later manuscripts actually changed it to "the sun grew dark"). This implies a supernatural occurrence, metaphorically showing the world the great sorrow of God at the death of His Son. Further clarifying the supernatural intervention, Luke mentions that the curtain in the temple was torn in two (Matthew makes it clear that it was from top to bottom; 27:51).
This almost certainly refers to the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. That curtain was about 30 feet tall and incredibly thick. No person would be able to rip that curtain in two under any circumstances. This curtain kept sinful humanity from the holy presence of God. Only the High Priest could enter beyond the curtain once a year, and that after extensive preparation rituals. But when Jesus died, that barriers was removed.
[Aside: It seems like that should have been a bigger deal in Jerusalem! However -- only a certain group of priests could go into the Holy Place to even notice it had happened, so the Jewish leaders would have been able to control that news fairly well. It probably took multiple off-the-record interviews for Matthew to obtain that information. Btw, how would you have liked to be the poor priest on duty when it happened? They would have had to attempt to repair it immediately, seeing as how they were no longer protected by the curtain, right? How might they have tried to sew it back together?]
Anyway, these events were the final corroboration that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. It was so clear that in the next verse, even a Roman centurion acknowledged the role of God in what was going on.
Jesus' final statement was a final demonstration that Jesus was actually the one in control of all of these events. He held His place throughout God's wrath (He could have come down), and when it was finished, He relinquished His life.
This is a great lesson to make sure you understand salvation as well as possible -- what it cost, how you obtain it, what it means. If people in this study with you give any indication that they don't really know what's going on, pull them aside on the way to worship and have a gospel conversation with them.
And this is also a great lesson to make sure you are living with appropriate gratitude for Jesus. How well does your life reflect that gratitude? Don't worry -- we have two more lessons in Luke to talk about how we should live as Christians.
Closing Thoughts: The "In Christ Alone" Controversy
You might not remember hearing about this. A song we enjoy singing at our church is "In Christ Alone" by Keith and Krystin Getty. It's theologically deep. When the PCUSA (the liberal Presbyterian wing) asked to include it in their hymnal, they wanted to change a lyric:
Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied.
Till on that cross as Jesus died, The love of God was magnified.
Some representatives of the hymnal committee said it's because they reject the idea that God's wrath had to be "satisfied" (go and skim the different theories I listed above -- they don't like the idea of the cross as "penal substitution"; the Bible very clearly teaches that to be true). But when we read their preferred replacement lyric, it becomes obvious that they fall into the "moral influence" camp held by more liberal Christian groups, desiring to downplay God's wrath and focus on God's love. Well, the Gettys said they couldn't make that change, and so the song isn't in that hymnal.
There were a lot of potshots taken at the song when this controversy came to light (which have died down), so if you want to Google it, be prepared for some ugliness. But I found a blog post by Terry Wright which cleverly reimagined the lyrics to fit the different theories of the atonement. I'll put them here aligned with the categories I used above. They may help you see the different emphases of the theories.
Obviously, the "moral influence theory" uses the lyric mentioned above.
Those who prefer the "Christus Victor" interpretation might want to sing:
Till on that cross as Jesus died, The Devil’s schemes were nullified.
For the satisfaction theory, you might sing:
Till on that cross as Jesus died, The name of God was satisfied.
If you focus on the cross as a sacrifice, it might be:
Till on that cross as Jesus died, This world of sin was purified.
Maybe those alternate lyrics help explain the differences of the theories.
One final note about this: it's all actually moot. Copyright law says that we can't change someone else's work without their permission. So it really doesn't matter how anyone would want to change it! The Gettys said it is written the way they want it to be sung.