26 February 2022
Today the world is in a crisis; whatever socio-political shifts, whatever anxieties we may feel as we see the unfolding of climate change and human conflicts, whatever concerns we may have about the church as an institution and the degeneration of the moral values of man, we should know and value the gospel of salvation, which was Jesus’ central message, and with it we must prize Jesus and His love-gift of new life,new joy, new strength, and new security.
We must behold Jesus Christ crucified, risen, reigning, and now in the power of His atonement, calling, drawing, welcoming, pardoning, renewing, empowering, preserving, transforming and bringing joy – this is still the heart of the Christian message, the focus of Christian worship, and the fountain of Christian life. Remember, everything may change, but this does not!
The gospel finds us lost and broken in this world; with repentance and faith, the gospel leaves us ‘ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven’. This is the centre of the Christian salvation, the mainstream that gives us conversion, adoption, hope and a future inheritance and glory with the Lord. In the midst of shocking changes, calamities, hopelessness, we must anchor ourselves in this centre and Rock where no ‘storm’ can overcome.
What makes Christians cling to the hope of a cosmic triumph of divine justice and power when the world around us seems to be slipping, despite humanity’s best efforts, into chaos at every level? Ultimately, it is because we believe that God’s risen Son reigns, really, if hiddenly, over all things, and He promised to return in glory to judge and renew this world which He, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, first created. To lose this perspective and conviction is truly a tragedy and a source of confusion for so-called believers. It means a loss of eternal perspective and a faith in God that is very telling and disappointing.
We must avoid any such lapse and keep on persevering, believing and enduring until we see Him face to face.
“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Hebrews 12:2-3 ESV)
Here we are told that Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith; our faith begins with Him and in Him, and He Himself would perfect our faith when He comes again. He endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him; the joy ‘speaks’ of His gladness and rejoicing at the prospect of millions through all generations coming to Him to become a people of God in the new heaven and new earth. For this joy (which probably included the prospect of Him returning to the Father in glory), Jesus willingly obeyed the Father, and voluntarily went to the cross to create a new single humanity in place of the old.
When we look at the cross and crucifixion of Jesus, we often are appalled by the degree of pain, suffering, humiliation and shame the Son of God had to endure – this is in order, but we must not miss the various achievements at the cross and the revelations of the cross in relation to our salvation in Christ (beyond the physical sufferings).
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
The word propitiation has great weight: for God, in a way that cannot be put into words, the very time when He loved us, He was hostile to us till He was reconciled in Christ. The duality of attitude, love and hostility, which in human psychological terms is inconceivable, is part of God’s moral glory. Humanity’s plight as victim of sin and Satan put sinners under divine judgement and our bondage to evil is the start of our sentence, and unless God’s rejection of us is turned into acceptance we are lost for ever. Christ’s death had its effect first on God, who was hereby propitiated, and only because it had this effect did it become an overthrowing of the powers of darkness and a revealing of God’s seeking and saving love. Christ offered to God what is called propitiation (satisfaction for sins); by undergoing the cross Jesus expiated (cleansed us) of our sins, propitiated our Maker, turned God’s ‘no’ to us into a ‘yes’, and so saved us. The term propitiation is ‘tied up’ with the theme of divine wrath; God’s wrath is pronounced against sin, ungodliness and wickedness of men (Rom. 1:18). The death of Christ is propitiatory, that is, Christ died to appease God’s wrath against sin. Jesus as a “propitiation” proves both that God is just (his wrath required the sacrifice) and that He is the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus (his love provided the sacrifice). This explains why Jesus in John 18, at His arrest, said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup (the cup of God’s wrath) that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11)
Christ’s death is substitutionary; this also includes the concepts of the death being representative and vicarious. Representation is said to mean ‘the fact of standing for, or in place of, some other thing or person, to act on their account, substitution of one thing or person for another’, and vicarious is defined as ‘that takes or supplies the place of another thing or person, substituted instead of the proper thing or person’. The Apostle Paul wrote: ‘Christ died for us’ (on our behalf, for our benefit), and ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us’ (Rom. 5:8; Gal:3:13 RSV), and Christ gave HIs life as a ransom for many. Jesus by dying did something for us which we needed to do but could not. Christ’s saving work has two parts: his dealing with his Father on our behalf by offering himself in substitutionary satisfaction for our sins (propitiation), and his dealing with us on his Father’s behalf by bestowing on us through faith the forgiveness which his death secured. Penal substitution expresses that Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a suffering love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgement for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption, and glory. To affirm penal substitution is to say that believers are in debt to Christ specifically for this, and this is the mainspring of all their joy, peace, and praise both now and for eternity.
Consider this: ‘God dealt with Jesus as if he had been exceedingly angry with him, and as though he had been the object of his dreadful wrath. This made all the sufferings of Christ the more terrible to him, because they were from the hand of his Father, whom he infinitely loved, and whose infinite love he had had eternal experience of. Besides, it was an effect of God’s wrath that he forsook Christ. This caused Christ to cry out…’My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ This was infinitely terrible to Christ. Christ’s knowledge of the glory of the Father, and his love to the Father, and the sense and experience he had had of the worth of his Father’s love to him, made the withholding of the pleasant ideas and manifestations of his Father’s love as terrible to him as the sense and knowledge of his hatred is to the damned, that have no knowledge of God’s excellency, no love to him, nor any experience of the infinite sweetness of is love.” (Jonathan Edwards)
The legendary ‘Rabbi’ Duncan’s outburst to one of his classes: ‘Do ye know what Calvary was? what? what? what?’ Then, with tears on his face – ‘It was damnation; and he took it lovingly.’ It is precisely this love that, in the last analysis, penal substitution is all about, and that explains its power in the lives of those who acknowledge it.
The knowledge of Christ’s death for us as our sin-bearing substitute requires us
to see ourselves as dead, risen, and alive for evermore in him. We who believe have died – painlessly and invisibly – in solidarity with him because he died, painfully and publicly, in substitution for us. His death for us brought remission of sins committed in Adam, so that in him we might enjoy God’s acceptance; our death in him brings release from the existence we knew in Adam, so that in him we are raised to new life and become new creatures (cf Rom. 5-6; 2 Cor. 5:17,21;Col. 2:6-3:4).
It is important to know that if we are born again, we are placed in Christ, in union with Him. What happened to Him at the cross happened to us in view of our union with Him; we died to the old life and are a new creation in Christ with the seed of regeneration planted in us. This means that we now have the potential to grow, to develop and to be transformed into the image of our Lord Jesus. We are now free from the dominion of sin and the negative influence of the world; we are no longer obligated to listen to the evil one. We have a new master in our Lord Jesus Christ. The power of sin has been broken although the conflict with the power of indwelling sin continues here on earth and the presence of sin still remains. We are now called to live a new life because we arose with Christ and share His resurrection life with Him (Eph. 2:4-6).
THE GREAT EXCHANGE AND VICTORY
Looking at the cross with the eye of sense we might think we were looking at a wretched failure, a good man dying as the result of miscarriage of justice. We might see it as a shocking scandal and a sad end to his ministry. But look at the cross with the eye of faith, and what we see is victory. We see the Saviour triumphing over his enemies and defeating them once and for all, by enduring our punishment and so guaranteeing our final deliverance from Satan’s sway.
2 Corinthians 5:2: How is it that God in Christ is reconciling the world to himself? By not imputing men’s trespasses to them. And how is it that he does not impute men’s trespasses to them? By virtue of the fact that he imputes them to the Lord Jesus so that Jesus pays for them in our stead. ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us (not by committing sin, but by having our sins reckoned to his account), so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ The great exchange! Substitution! This is the message. The cross of Christ is a revelation of the love of God, for it reveals what that love is prepared to suffer for the one loved.
Deep, rich, and full peace of conscience comes only when we know that our sins have been, not simply disregarded, but judged, judged to the full and paid for to the full by the Son of God in your place. . Man has sinned and God has suffered, that God has been made the sin of man and man is made the righteousness of God. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Cor 9:15)