Many of my Christian views have radically changed over the last 16 years. A big one is my view of the cross. While growing up in church and attending vacation Bible school, before asking us if we’d like to receive Christ as out Lord and Savior, my pastor used to tell us a story about Little Timmy and Big Tom. I even told it several times myself in high school as a counselor at a Christian camp. The story went like this:
Once back in the 1800’s there was an old one room school house where all the children of all ages would gather to attend school. The school house had a small room by the entrance where they would all leave their coats and lunches. One day at lunchtime one boy’s lunch turned up missing. The teacher, a just man, warned the class not to be stealing lunches. The next day another student’s lunch was missing. Then a third day the same thing occurred. So when class was in session the teacher stood in front of the class with hickory stick in hand and firmly informed them, “This stealing needs to stop. If I find out who is stealing the lunches he will be brought in front of the class and be whipped 10 times with the hickory stick.”
To everybody’s surprise, the very next day the culprit was caught in the act. It was a frail, skinny boy they called Little Timmy. His family’s crops had failed that year so they didn’t have much food. The teacher cringed at the thought of whipping this young man, but being a just man he knew that rules are rules. He had to carry through with what he said. So Little Timmy was brought before the classroom and the teacher asked him, “Did you steal those lunches?” Timmy nodded yes. The teacher’s heart sank. He asked Timmy to take off his shirt. His tattered shirt practically fell off exposing his yellowish skin and the bones beneath it. “If I whip this boy it may kill him.” thought the teacher. But he knew somebody had to pay for stealing those lunches. He told Timmy to clasp his ankles. Then the teacher raised the hickory stick and just as he was about to bring it down on Timmy’s back a large hand grasp the teacher’s wrist and stopped him. The teacher turned to see Big Tom standing there. Tom was the biggest and brightest student in the class.
Tom said, “Teacher, don’t hit Timmy.”
The teacher responded, “I don’t want to Tom. But somebody has to pay for what he did.”
Tom said, “I know. I’ll do it. It was my lunch he stole. Whip me instead.”
The teacher agreed. Timmy put his shirt back on and took his seat as Tom took Timmy’s punishment for him. Afterwards the teacher commended Tom and Timmy ran up to him, threw his arms around him, and with tears in his eyes cried out, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
And then the teller of the story turns to the audience and says, “Big Tom did for Little Timmy what Jesus did for us.” But now I don’t agree with that story.
Today if I were to tell the story, it would go like this:
Once back in the 1800’s in the town of Willow Glen (founded by the rich and powerful Captain “Big Tom” Collins) there was an old one room school house where all the children of all ages would gather to attend school. The school house had a small room by the entrance where they would all leave their coats and lunches. One day at lunchtime one boy’s lunch turned up missing. The teacher warned the class not to be stealing lunches. The next day another student’s lunch was missing. Then a third day the same thing occurred. The anger amongst the students as well as with teacher was rising. It was becoming very difficult for the teacher to maintain a constructive learning environment. Something had to be done or he would lose control of the class. So the teacher stood in front of the students and told them, “When I find out who is stealing those lunches he will be brought in front of the class and whipped with my hickory stick ten times.” The class cheered!
Sure enough! The very next day the culprit was said to have been caught in the act. Little Timmy, a skinny, frail boy who was bullied from time to time was brought in front of the class. “He was caught eating my lunch!” Cried out Will, one of the students. “Look! Three bites were taken out of my sandwich.” Will’s best friends, Jeff and Jason shouted out, “Yep!” and “I was there! I saw him do it!” The students all turned and sneered at Little Timmy. Some could be heard muttering words like, “Criminal!” “Thief!” and “Jack-ass!” The teacher signaled the class to be silent and he turned and asked Little Timmy, “Young man, tell me, did you steal those lunches?” Timmy didn’t say a word. He just stood there. The teacher asked again. “Timmy, I’m going to ask you a second time, there won’t be a third. Did you steal those lunches?” Timmy remained silent. The teacher picked up his hickory stick and said, “You leave me with no choice. Take off your shirt.” Timmy removed his shirt exposing his yellowish skin and the bones beneath it. The teacher was undeterred. He ordered Little Timmy to clasp his ankles. As Timmy bent over to do so he could see the faces of his classmates. Some were sneering at him, others had twisted grins of satisfaction. One thing was for sure, there wasn’t a friendly face in the crowd. Not even counting those who he played with every day. He looked at them and said, “I forgive you all.” He clasped his ankles and the teacher proceeded to whip him. After each blow a faint whisper coming from Timmy’s lips could be heard saying, “I forgive you.” By the seventh blow Little Timmy collapsed on the floor. The teacher struck him three more times then asked a few of the big students to help him to his seat. They carried him to the desk in the back where he sat slumped over like a corpse for the rest of the day while the students peacefully returned to their regular instruction.
The next day the teacher and students began to hear rumors that Timmy had been treated by the best physician in town. This troubled them. That physician only treated the rich and important. When they returned to class they were shocked to see Timmy sitting in his seat looking perfectly healthy and stronger than ever. It was as if nothing had even happened. And to make matters even worse, a rumor had begun to spread and was proving to be more and more true, that Timmy was the son of the rich and powerful naval captain Big Tom Collins, the founder of the town who was lost at sea for over a decade and was recently discovered alive and well and was returning home. Seeing Timmy sitting there caused them all to shutter with fright. Timmy smiled at each student as they walked by his desk, wishing them a good morning. Some sheepishly responded back with a nervous “good morning” while others had no idea what to say. Who knew what Big Tom would do to them and their families when he found out what they’d done to his son? One thing was for sure, they’d pay a hefty price!
Then, as class was about to begin, Timmy did something shocking. He stood up and called for everybody’s attention. He said, “You’re all forgiven. You have nothing to fear.”
The class was silent and then finally the teacher got up the nerve to ask the very question they were all pondering, “Wh-what about your father?”
Timmy smiled reassuringly, “I’m just like my father.”
The class was left speechless and completely dumbfounded.
Jesus didn’t take our place on the cross as a sacred religious sacrifice to appease an angry God. Jesus revealed us to us by exposing our constant drive to scapegoat and sacrifice others by becoming the victim. Through the resurrection he revealed a terrifying thing: we, Jews and Gentiles alike, are even willing to go so far as to scapegoat God Himself. And Jesus revealed God to us by being the meek victim and forgiving the very people who had done this to him and refused to return to us what we deserved. Rather, he calls us family and welcomes us with open arms. God is not like us, demanding blood and sacrifice. It is we who demand it. Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13) The prophet Hosea spoke, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6) Jeremiah prophesized, “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Jeremiah 7:22) And David, under prophetic inspiration wrote, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire– but my ears you have opened — burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.” (Psalm 40:6) And again, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.” (Psalm 51:16)
Is it any wonder Jesus was angered when he looked upon the temple sacrificial system? Instead of prayer (communion with God) they were charging the people to sacrifice to Him! Jesus was in line with what the prophets had revealed about God’s view of sacrifice.
It is we who demand sacrifice. It is we who demand blood. It is we who scapegoat to maintain peace and order. And it is humankind all through time who has created a god in our own image who does the same. The first story of Little Timmy and Big Tom is actually a picture of our fallen nature and humanity’s view of God. He is the unforgiving, unrelenting exactor who demands blood. No. That is us.
In order to break the barrier WE had constructed between us and God (God was never hiding from anybody), Jesus became the very thing we wanted; a scapegoat. He went right to the heart of humanity by revealing us to us. He stood alongside all of the scapegoats throughout history, from Able to Joseph to Achan, to the daughter of Jephthah, to Isaiah. As theologian Michael Hardin pointed out, the Bible is not a book about God. It is a book about us. We see through most of the Bible who we are and God’s attempts to break through our wrong perceptions of Him. By becoming OUR scapegoat, Jesus blew the lid off our delusion. God knew this was the ONLY way we could see Him.
I don’t think the conversation in heaven between Father and Son went like this:
Father: Sin has a price. I have to kill those sinners!
Son: Don’t do it Dad!
Father: But I have to son! I demand blood!
Son: Then let me take their place! Kill me instead!
Father: Okay Son. You just saved humanity!
Rather, I think it went more like this:
Father and Son (as one): They just don’t understand who I am! Oh how I want to commune with them and for them to abide in my love! But they won’t have it. The veil over their hearts and minds is too thick. There is only one way to remove that veil. They need to meet me in person. They need to see me. I must live amongst them. But surely if I do this, they will kill me. I am so opposite of their image of me and who they are that they won’t be able to handle it. Just by being who I am, I will so completely disrupt their status quo that they’ll do to me what they do to everybody who doesn’t fit or disrupts the status quo. They will scapegoat me and kill me. But this is the only way they will ever truly understand my love for them. I will go to them so they can know me because I love them, with no illusions of what they’ll do to me. They want to punish and shed blood for sin? Then I will BE sin for them. They want to curse people? Then I will be the curse for all of them. They want to scapegoat others? Then I will be the scapegoat for all of them. They want to shame and humiliate others? Then I will bear the shame and humiliation for all. I will end the blood lust and thirst for a sacrifice to appease their version of me once and for ALL. They believe they can’t commune with me without a sacrifice for their sins? Then I will be their sacrifice once and for ALL. Then after they have broken my body and shed my blood I will return to them loving them as I always have. I will make it clear they are all forgiven and the slate is wiped clean. The drive to appease their illusion of me will forever be removed because they will finally see me as I AM. The veil will finally be lifted and their eyes will be opened. They’re self-delusions will crumble and we shall finally commune together as a family. The very thing for which I have always yearned. I will bring peace on Earth by ending the friction between humanity and I forever!