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Stuck In Atlanta

Jesus had a special relationship with his Father. Throughout his earthly sojourn he had the assurance of God’s presence and favor, and he spent long hours talking with him while others slept. At his baptism, Jesus heard a voice from heaven saying, “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” On the mount of transfiguration, Jesus was emblazoned with heaven’s glory while Elijah and Moses stood nearby. Every miracle that Jesus performed reinforced the fact that he was on a mission to redeem fallen humanity, and it was obvious that God was with him. But then he entered Gethsemane and everything changed, or so it seemed. There Jesus experienced a sense of separation from his Father unlike anything he had ever known.

“He was counted among the transgressors” (Mark 15:28, AMP). “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NKJV).

Jesus became sin. I don’t think we fully understand what this means.

I’ll never forget the summer I lived in Georgia where I worked as a community service volunteer. I was 18 years-old and had joined a group of college students who were giving 10 weeks of their summer to host a recreation program. We hosted a Vacation Bible School and other activities for a bunch of inner-city kids near downtown Atlanta. We quickly learned to watch our backs and to keep our eyes peeled for danger. We were surrounded by housing projects filled with people stuck in unimaginable poverty and hardship. Life was difficult for everyone we met.

When you live in a situation like that and are there day and night, you begin to sense what it’s like to be stranded–somewhere between hope and the ugly glare of reality. Many of the people you’re trying to help are stranded. With no one to give them a leg up, some become desperate, while others struggle with varying degrees of clinical depression. There is no light at the end of the tunnel.

We were white, and they were mostly black, so how could we ever fully understand? After all, I’d never been stopped by the police for being white. But I have friends who have been stopped for being black. One of them told me about driving down a street at night and being stopped by a police who wanted to know, “Where did you get that car?” Mind you, this man was a pastor with a family. But the police thought it strange that he, a black man, was driving such a nice car.

The stifling presence of poverty and prejudice was very much alive in our neighborhood, and I began to understand why alcohol was the beverage of choice for so many.

When Jesus became one of us and was numbered among sinners, who did he most readily identify with? Was it people like me–a white boy from middle class suburbia who happened to land in a dangerous neighborhood for a few weeks before being whisked back to his protected suburban enclave? Or, was it those who lived hand-to-mouth and who understood what it meant to barely eek out an existence? While I am thankful the net of salvation is large enough to include suburbia, I believe Jesus was born in an ugly and dangerous place (after all, the earth is the ghetto of the universe). I believe Jesus understood what it felt like to be stuck in an undesireable place with no back-up plan for escape. He knew what it felt like to be stopped for being black; to be so broke that you want to rob a bank; to be so despondent that you head to the corner liquor store for a sample of Jack Daniel’s heaven. Jesus became sin. He felt what we experience when we do the unthinkable–when we want to kill someone because we are so angry.

Mind you, Jesus didn’t do it, but he knew what it felt like, because he became sin.

Jesus became sin for a reason:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19, NLT).

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About Rich DuBose

Rich DuBose

is director of Church Support Services for the Pacific Union Conference.

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