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.

What is Your Only Comfort in Life and in Death?

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.

Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 1)

The Death of Death

In the last couple of weeks we have seen the deaths of several celebrities:  David Carradine, Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and Billy Mays.  Needless to say, this has been a very pronounced reminder of the certainty of death.  The harsh reality is that regardless of education, race, gender, age, or social status, everyone will die (Gen. 5).  In this regard, death is no respecter of persons.  It has been said that “Death comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes.”

Since death is such a harsh reality, many seek to ignore that it is coming.  In my own life I have found this impossible to do.  Because one of my brothers died when I was eleven and both of my parents died when I was in my mid twenties I have frequent thoughts about death.  This is not something  I am alone in.  Thinking about death has been the practice of some of the most significant figures in church history:

Jonathan Edwards stated in his ninth resolution, “Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.”

Charles Spurgeon said, “If death comes to me as a stranger, I may be startled, but if I have prepared myself to receive him, he may come and knock at my door and I shall say, I am ready to go with you, for I have been expecting you all my life.”

It is good to think about death because of the immense spiritual benefits it can produce.  Let me mention a couple:

1.  Thinking about death makes us realize the brevity of life which should result in humility and soberness (Job 14:2; Pss. 39:4; 90:12; 102:11; 103:15; Eccl. 12:13-14; Isa. 40:6-8; James 4:13-15).

2.  Thinking about death should make us think about the only one who conquered death, the Lord Jesus Christ.  During His earthly ministry Jesus demonstrated His power over death by raising people from the dead (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43; Luke 7:11-17; John 11:1-46).  But more importantly, Jesus demonstrated His power over death when He Himself rose from the dead.

As much as the death of Christ did not make sense at the time, the Apostles eventually came to understand that His death brought an end to death.  The Apostle Peter said…

“But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death,

since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power (Acts 2:24).”

The resurrection of Christ was not only the end of the agony of death for Him, but for everyone who would receive Him as Savior and Lord (Rom. 10:9).  One of the most profound statements about the death of death was written by the Apostle Paul…

“O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:55-57).”

An equally profound statement was made by Christ Himself…

“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die…(John 11:25-26).”

This is not a promise of escaping physical death itself.  Rather it is a promise of deliverance from the ultimate penalty of death (which is hell) and the gift of eternal life which will be experienced to the highest degree at the time of death (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:21-23).

Consider two concluding verses that speak so powerfully about the death of death…

“Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).”

“And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away (Rev. 21:4).”

Praise be to God who has brought about the death of death in the death of Jesus Christ!

J.C. Ryle on Deathbed Confession

A while back Dr. Siefkes posted “Expressing Christian Sympathy” in this blog, which was (still is) a wonderful Godward reminder to make much of God when one of our Christian loved ones pass away.

I want to piggyback on that thought from my recent reading from Holiness, where J.C. Ryle offered a warning to deathbed confessions. We often hear that so and so is in heaven now. But when asked about why, their reasons are often unsound (even unbiblical). Although insensitive comments are to be avoided, especially, during inappropriate time, nonetheless, truth needs to be spoken with love some time.

It is mournful to hear what people sometimes say about what they call deathbed evidences. It is perfectly fearful to observe how little satisfies some persons, and how easily they can persuade themselves that their friends have gone to heaven. They will tell you when their relative is dead and gone that “he made such a beautiful prayer one day,” or that “he talked so well,” or that “he was so sorry for his old ways, and intended to live so differently if he got better,” or that “he craved nothing in this world,” or that “he liked people to read to him, and pray with him.” And because they have this to go upon, they seem to have a comfortable hope that he is saved! Christ may never have been named – the way of salvation may never have been in the least mentioned. But it matters not; there was a little talk of religion, and so they are content!

Now I have no desire to hurt the feelings of anyone who reads this paper, but I must and will speak plainly upon this subject. Once for all, let me say that, as a general rule, nothing is so unsatisfactory as deathbed evidences. The things that men say, and the feelings they express when sick and frightened, are little to be depended on. Often, too often, they are the result of fear, and do not spring the ground of the heart. Often, too often, they are things said by rote; caught from the lips of ministers and anxious friends, but evidently not felt. And nothing can prove all this more clearly than the well-known fact that the great majority of persons who make promises of amendment on a sickbed, and then for the first time talk about religion, if they recover, go back to sin and the world (emphasis his; Holiness, [Moscow: Charles Nolan Publishers, 2001], 227-8).