“Crucifying the Son of God all over again” – Brad Jersak
Today’s cartoon by David Hayward’s reminds me of this passage from Hebrews 6:
“To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Hebrews 6:6).
Who is it that re-crucifies Jesus? That author says, “Those who’ve fallen away.” Whatever that means. In that context, it seems like he was referring to Hebrew Christians who were renouncing Jesus and returning to their Old Covenant lives. Under extreme pressure and persecution, it was apparently a powerful temptation. The same problem faced the Thessalonian believers who were giving their old paganism a second look because, socially, faithful Jesus-following was a heavy cross to bear.
In 1982, my Baptist teachers may have thought the Catholics were recrucifying Jesus every week at communion. But personally, I was more likely to see it as getting crazy drunk and getting into a fight after hypocritically professing Christ. Today, I associate Hayward’s drawing of Hebrews 6 more with the hypocrisy of politicizing faith to oppress others while maintaining a very thin veneer of Jesus-talk to do so. In other words, you can leave Jesus without leaving Churchianity. The recrucifixion of Jesus can be an in-house offense.
The consequences, according to Hebrews, sound very severe:
4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss, they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end, it will be burned.
Ouch. Why so harsh? Why so final? I want to suggest that this paragraph is harsh because the problem they faced was so drastic–the betrayal of Christ so deep and appalling. So the author presents a gruesome response in keeping with the measure to which he abhors their apostasy.
On the other hand, like all good New Testament rhetoric, his threats are not actually to be literalized, totalized, and finalized. This rhetorical device is almost always immediately followed by and paired with a word of comfort. In this case,
9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.
In other words, yes, there is a word of judgment, condemning the offense… but then God’s mercy triumphs over judgment. We breathe a sigh of relief when we see an exit ramp diverting us from the highway that leads to destruction. By describing the destructive pile-up ahead in such stark terms, the apostle motivates us to make our exit gratefully and immediately. The hypothetical destruction is averted and we breathe a giant sigh of relief. Always, always, the final word is mercy.