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.

Warning About the Pew Controlling the Pulpit

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It is one thing to equip the pew, but it is quite another to over-empower the pew. We all know what happens when the pew controls the pulpit. On this regard, listen to the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Far too often the pew has controlled the pulpit, and great harm has come in the Church. The Apostle warns Timothy that a time is coming when people ‘will not endure sound doctrine.’ This is frequently the case at the present time, and has been so during this present century. So it is important that every member of the Church should have a true conception of the Church and the office of the ministry in particular.

There are churches in the world today which appear on the surface to be very flourishing. People crowd into them and they display much zeal and enthusiasm. But on closer examination you will find that most of the time is taken up with music of various types, and with clubs and societies and social activities. The service starts at 11 a.m. and must finish promptly at 12 noon. There will be real trouble if it does not! There is but a brief ‘address’ of some quarter of an hour’s duration, twenty minutes as a maximum. The unfortunate minister, if he does not see these things clearly, is afraid to go against the wishes of the majority, his livelihood depends upon church members, and the result is that everything is made to conform to the desires and wishes of the pew. I have been told on excellent authority that there is a church which is attended at certain seasons of the year by most distinguished personages, in which instructions are given to the preacher that he is not to preach for more than seven minutes. It is almost important, therefore, that every member of the Church should understand that the purpose and the function of the ministry is ‘for the edifying of the body of Christ.’ The history of the Church shows clearly that it is when the pew, the listeners, exert such powerful influences and when ministers lacking courage have been so bound, that the Word of God has not been truly preached and the Church has become dead and lifeless. The pew does not dictate to the minister as to what he is to do” (Christian Unity: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:1-16, 201-2).

Lloyd-Jones on the Office of a Pastor

I came across the following quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ exposition of Ephesians, where he defines “pastor-teacher” in 4:11:

The office of a pastor is generally concerned about government and instruction and rule and direction. It is borrowed, of course, from the picture of a shepherd. The shepherd shepherds his flock, keeps the sheep in order, directs them where to go and where to feed, brings them back to the fold, looks after their safety and guards them against enemies liable to attack them. It is a great office, but unfortunately it is a term which has become debased. A pastor is a man who is given charge of souls. He is not merely a nice, pleasant man who visits people and has an afternoon cup of tea with them, or passes the time of day with them. He is the guardian, the custodian, the protector, the organizer, the director, the ruler of the flock. The teacher gives instruction in doctrine, in truth (Christian Unity: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:1-16, 193).

Lloyd-Jones on Pulpits

Here’s a follow-up comment from words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones to my previous post:

There are many who preach about the Lord Jesus Christ to no effect and we can see why. They have no doctrine of sin, they never convict or convince people of sin. They always hold Christ before men and say that that is enough. but it is not enough; for the effect of sin upon us is such that we shall never fly to Christ until we realize that we are paupers. But we hate to regard ourselves as paupers, and we do not like to feel our need. People are ready to listen to sermons which present Christ to them, but they do not like to be told that they are so helpless that He had to go to the cross and die before they could be saved. They think that that is insulting. We must be brought to realize our need. The first two essentials to salvation and to rejoicing in Christ are the consciousness of our need, and the consciousness of the riches of grace that are in Christ. It is only those who realize these two things who “ask” truly, because it is only the man who says “O wretched man that I am” who seeks for deliverance. The other man is not aware of his need. It is the man who knows that he is “down and out” who begins to ask. And then begins to realize the possibilities that are in Christ [Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 2 volumes (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 2:199-200].

Public and Private Prayer

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on priority of private prayer:

Ultimately, therefore, a man discovers the real condition of his spiritual life when he examines himself in private, when he is alone with God… The real danger for a man who leads congregation in a public act of prayer is that he may be addressing the congregation rather than God. But when we are alone in the presence of God that is no longer possible. And have we not all known what it is to find that, somehow, we have less to say to God when we are alone than when we are in the presence of others? It should not be so; but it often is. So that it is when we have left the realm of activities and outward dealings with other people, and are alone with God, that we really know where we stand in a spiritual sense. It is not only the highest activity of the soul, it is the ultimate test of our true spiritual condition [Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 2 volumes (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 2:46].