Jesus, Our Only Substitute

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What is so unique about Jesus’ death?

Is it that he died for someone? The idea that one would die for another is not unique. We all have heard of a soldier or policeman taking a bullet for one of their own.

Is it that he died sacrificially? That isn’t unique either because we all have heard of parents that have sacrificed their own lives to save their children. So, the notion that one would die for another is not unique either.

I’m afraid that if this is the only way that we would present the gospel, then we missed the crux of Christianity.

When speaking of the gospel, we must point out the uniqueness of Christ’s death, namely the quality of the substitute. We’ve all heard one story or another that tried to relate to the substitutionary death, as illustrated above. However, all of them fall short.

When anyone dies, it is a just death (i.e., death that is just). If God is sovereign in who he allows to live and doesn’t, then there’s no “accidental” death. Death comes to all (Heb. 9:27).

Moreover, death is deserving to all because the wages of sin is death. Besides having some sentimental emotions, there is no propitiation or redemption when a sinner dies for another sinner. In other words, what does a sinner dying for another sinner do? Nothing. Both would die, still in their sin.

Without the perfect sacrifice (i.e., without any blemish) that can meet all of God’s holy demands, there is no propitiation, no redemption, and no reconciliation with God. Hence, the biggest question then is, who meets the perfect standard to be our propitiation, for our atonement? Who is qualified to meet all of God’s holy demands by dying as our substitute? And this is where Jesus Christi comes into the scene.

He lived thirty-three years or so, to fulfill every law. The four Gospels display his righteousness, so that after his death, his righteousness then can be imputed to his elect. Moreover, he lived the perfect, righteous, and holy life without any sin, to testify to all that he was the only one who was qualified to die the death of perfect substitution. This is the message of an important aspect of the gospel, namely the quality of our substitute.

Therefore, if we fail to understand God’s rightful condemnation on all sinners, the uniqueness of Christ’s death, and the quality of our substitute, then the death of Christ is mere sentimental emotion at best. And we do injustice by reducing the power of the gospel to a mere moral lesson.

For some people, the notion of substitutionary death is morally wrong. As a reaction against such notion, in his book The Cross, Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes:

To them, the idea that one man should be punished for other people’s sin is immoral. The whole notion is quite unthinkable. A man bears his own punishment. This idea that somebody else comes along who is absolutely innocent, and that you put your guilt on him and that he then bears the punishment – the thing is quite immoral. They say they cannot believe in a God who does a thing like that, a God who can punish his own Son, cause his death, in order to forgive others. It is not justice. They say that it violates their sense of justice and of morality. Have you not heard that? Perhaps you have thought it? If you have, the cross is an offence, because the essence of this doctrine is subsitution. It teaches that Chrst is the Lamb of God ‘that taketh away the sins of the world’; that our sins are transferred to him, are imputed to him, and put upon him; and that it is ‘by his stripes we are healed’. It teaches that God has smitten him. God has ‘laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Is 53:6). And to the modern man, the natural human thinker, this is an offence, immoral, unjust, and unrighteous. So he hates it and he rejects it ([Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1986], 48).

I would like to echo the following prayer of a Puritan:

O MY SAVIOR,

I thank thee from the depths of my being, for thy wondrous grace and love, in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.

May thy cross be to me as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs, as the rod that blossoms with life and beauty, as the brazen serpent that calls forth the look of faith.

By thy cross, crucify my every sin;

Use it to increase my intimacy with thyself;

Make it the ground of all my comfort, the liveliness of all my duties, the sum of all thy gospel promises, the comfort of all my afflictions, the vigour of my love, thankfulness, graces, the very essence of my religion;

And by it give me that rest without rest, the rest of ceaseless praise.

(From “The Grace of the Cross” in The Valley of Vision [Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1994], 171).

Amen.

Do You “Make” Christ the Lord?

Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite books of all time:

Scripture never speaks of anyone “making” Christ Lord, except God Himself, who “has made Him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). He is Lord of all (Rom. 14:9; Phil. 2:11), and the biblical mandate is not to “make” Christ Lord, but rather to bow to His lordship (John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008], 226).

That statement is diametrically opposed to much of our gospel presentations today. That’s right. You don’t make Christ the Lord; he already is!

The Last Sayings of Christ from the Cross

For my doctoral project, I recently preached a special 8-week series on “The Last Sayings of Christ from the Cross” at Sovereign Grace. Although there are many biblical, theological, and even practical implications, my primary goal was to point out what each statement reveals about Jesus. After all, he is the central figure in the redemptive history and what he accomplished is the basis for our justification.

  1. Jesus, the Petitioner (Luke 23:34)
  2. Jesus, the Promise-Keeper (Luke 23:43)
  3. Jesus, the Provider (John 19:26-27)
  4. Jesus, the Propitiator (Matthew 27:46)
  5. Jesus, the Person (John 19:28)
  6. Jesus, the Prevailer (John 19:30)
  7. Jesus, the Pathway (Luke 23:46)
  8. Summation of Sayings of the Savior from the Cross (Selected Scripture)

If you’re interested, you can hear any or all the messages here.

Peace on Earth

One of the great truths of Christmas is peace on earth.  In fact this is what the heavenly host announced to the shepherds when Jesus Christ was born,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased (Luke 2:14).”

But there are at least four different categories of peace on earth, all of which come through Jesus Christ:

1.  Judicial peace with God in justification (Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:20).

2.  Inner, experiential peace in the heart (Isa. 26:3; John 14:27; Gal. 5:22; Phil. 4:6-7).

3.  Peace with other believers (Matt. 5:9; Eph. 2:14-15; 4:3; Col. 3:15).

4.  Eschatological peace (Isa. 2:2-4; 9:1-7; 11:6-10).

It could be said this way, every Christian experiences full judicial peace with God now, partial peace in the heart and with other believers now (depending on personal growth and sanctification), and will experience perfect peace in every respect when the Lord Jesus Christ returns as the Prince of Peace to establish His kingdom of perfect peace on earth.

May we reflect this Christmas on the peace that Jesus Christ brings through His redemptive work on our behalf.

The King Has Come!

From the last prophecy in Malachi to the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, 400 years had elapsed. Four hundred silent years where no miracles occurred. No prophets. No voice of God. The heavens were silent. As a matter of fact, the last word given in Malachi, the last book of the OT, was “destruction” or “curse.”

To a Jew living at the time just before Jesus’ birth, the unspoken question was, “Has God abandoned us?” What were they to think about all of the promises made to them in the Old Testament? What about the covenants God had made?

The opening verse of Matthew (1:1),  seen through the eyes of the Jewish people, help us to see the incredible grace of God in sending the promised hope that they longed for. But this promise was not only to the Jewish people, but it was a promise of hope for all of us.

In the Gospel of Matthew we see the glorious realities of Jesus as the King of Kings. He is the King of Heaven who came down to earth. He preached a gospel of the Kingdom. He showed the power and authority of the mightiest of kings. And He showed in His life, death and resurrection that He has power over even death itself. Although rejected by men, Jesus sits at the right hand of his Father in heaven and is coming soon to wage war with his enemies and to take his rightful place as Lord and Sovereign over all of creation.

In this blog post, as we come close to Christmas day, I would like to look at the four descriptive names of the king in Matthew 1:1.

Jesus: Yeshua, Yehoshua, Joshua

This is the name given to Jesus by Mary and Joseph, as commanded by God through His angel in Matthew 1:21. Yeshua means “Jehovah is Salvation” in Hebrew. Although it sounds to us like Jesus is his first name and Christ is his last, this is not the case. Christ is his title (See vv. 16, 17).

Verse 1 tells us that we are about to hear about the genealogy of Jesus. “Genealogy” is the Greek word genesis which means “birth, offspring, lineage or family tree. It probably reminds you of the first book of the Old Testament, Genesis, which refers to the “beginnings” or “generations” that are so prominent in that book. So this is the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life. But this is not the beginning of Jesus’ existence. John 1:2 tells us that Jesus existed in the beginning with God. Therefore, this is his earthly beginning, or the story of how he came to earth to be the King.

Christ: Messiah, Anointed One

As was mentioned earlier, Christ is a title. It means “Anointed One” or “Chosen One.” This anointing refers to the Old Testament practice of pouring a special scented oil over the head, beard and clothing of those chosen for the special offices of prophet, priest and king. You can see this in Elisha (prophet; 1Kg 19:16), Aaron (high priest; Ex 28:41), and Saul (king; 1Sam 10:1).

Jesus came as the Anointed One, chosen by God to be the Savior of his people. Imagine that you are living in this time when God had been silent for 400 years, and now the hope of Israel and the world is given a name—Jesus! But many had made claims to be a savior of the Jews and sought to bring about great changes. One such false messiah, Theudas, is mentioned in Acts 5:36-37.

At the time of the writing of Matthew, possibly a mere 20 years after Jesus returned to heaven, there were many who still doubted the truth about Jesus the Messiah. The religious elite of the time considered Jesus a fraud, a usurper to the throne. It is here that we begin to see the value of a family tree for Jesus—proof positive that Jesus was in the family line of the great King of Israel, David.

The Son of David

The term “son of” is not always used literally in the Bible. “Son of” can refer to any ancestor, even a distant one. Jesus is here called the “son of David.” The Messiah had to come through the family of King David as was promised by God.

Second Samuel 7:12-13 says, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

Likewise, Psalm 89: 3-4 says, “You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’”  Verses 35-37 go on to say, “Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.”

How would a Jew looking at verse one have reacted to hearing Jesus called “Son of David?” It was like a long-awaited mystery was finally being solved right before their eyes.The Jewish people had waited thousands of years for the revealing of this Son of David, and now they would hear about him!

 

The Son of Abraham

As if it isn’t enough for Matthew to connect Jesus’ family tree to the great king David, the height of Israel’s history, he also connects Jesus to the very father of the nation-Abraham!

In Gen 12:1-3, the promises made to Abraham and his family not only included the promise of blessing for God’s chosen people Israel, but in verse 3; the promise of blessing extends to all the families of the earth. What was that blessing?

The Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 3:8:

“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

Galatians 3:16 adds,

“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. Jesus, the Messiah, is himself the blessing given to all the nations of the earth.”

 

Jesus- Jehovah is salvation

Christ- The Chosen One of God

Son of David-The eternal ruling King

Son of Abraham-The promised blessing of God to the world

This is Jesus the King. Do you know the King?

There were many in Jesus’ day who expected him to come, but did not know him when he came. They expected a conquering warrior. They expected a political powerhouse. They expected a wealthy aristocrat.

God sent his Son as a helpless baby.

God sent his Son into a poor carpenter’s home.

God sent his Son to be ridiculed and scorned.

God sent his Son to die.

For your sins.

In your place.

For you to receive heaven while he took on the weight of the wrath of God set against your sins.

You see, God demonstrated his strength and might, his mercy and love on the cross.

Jesus is the King—and it is amazing to think that a King would die for a wretched sinner like you and me, but he did.

Let us remember our King this Christmas.

Ponder Anew

Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (Matthew 27:46).

“When a man offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD to fulfill a special vow or for a freewill offering, of the herd or of the flock, it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it” (Leviticus 22:21).

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Some Historical Confessions on the Passion Week

One of the visible characteristics of Reformed (or reforming) churches is that it is confessional, not in a Roman Catholic sense where you confess your sins to a priest, but confessional like in doctrinal. Although I rejoice witnessing resurgence of Reformed interests, especially, from the neo-Reformed (so called “young, restless, reformed”), my concern is that one is not really Reformed without being confessional, namely historical confessions.

To think that somehow we just discovered the mammoth of theological truths is simply a sign of arrogance in our part, and does a huge injustice to historical theology. Hence, to help us to think through some aspects of this Passion Week, let me offer some of the confessions from our church history:

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563):

40. Why did Christ have to go all the way to death? Because God’s justice and truth demand it: only the death of God’s Son could pay for our sin.

41. Why was he “buried”? His burial testifies that he really died.

42. Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die? Our death does not pay the debt of our sins. Rather, it puts an end to our sinning and is our entrance into eternal life.

43. What further advantage do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross? Through Christ’s death our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with him, so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer rule us, but that instead we may dedicate ourselves as an offering of gratitude to him.

44. Why does the creed [i.e. the Apostle’s Creed] add, “He descended into hell”? To assure me in times of personal crisis and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, especially on the cross but also ealier, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell (from Lord’s Day 16).

The London Baptist Confession (1689):

Chapter 8: Of Christ the Mediator

4. This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake, which that he might discharge he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfil it, and underwent the punishment due to us, which we should have borne and suffered, being made sin and a curse for us; enduring most grievous sorrows in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, and remained in the state of the dead, yet saw no corruption: on the third day he arose from the dead with the same body in which he suffered, with which he also ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father making intercession, and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.

5. The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him.

6. Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and to-day and for ever.

Chapter 11: Of Justification

3. Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are justified; and did, by the sacrifice of himself in the blood of his cross, undergoing in their stead the penalty due unto them, make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in their behalf; yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them, and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead, and both freely, not for anything in them, their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.