walk in the word
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, nasb).
Not everyone believes what I hope you believe (what the Bible actually says) about the reason Jesus Christ had to die.
Some believe, for example, that God didn’t require a payment for sinners—that He forgives people simply because He chooses to do so, without resolution of any kind. But if that’s true, what was Jesus doing on the cross? Believing this view doesn’t make God more gracious; it makes Him cruel in the extreme.Christ’s suffering and death is Love finding a way to pay for sin. Click To Tweet
Others believe that the death of Christ merely served as an example. They say the cross shows us how much God loves us. But this view fails to take into account numerous Bible passages that say Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4, esv), how “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3), that He “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
Here’s the truth: Christ took our place and suffered our punishment for sin. He became our substitute. That’s where the term substitutionary atonement comes from. His death was the legal act whereby He fulfilled the demands of God’s holy law and paid the penalty for sin. He became “sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Even in the Old Testament, Isaiah prophesied, “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Be sure you know the word atonement. The death of Jesus Christ atoned for sin, made payment for it. If the gospel were a dartboard, the word atonement would be the bull’s-eye. Throughout this Passion Week, as you read and are reminded of the suffering Jesus underwent, atonement is what you see happening every step of the way.
The flogging, the mocking, the blasphemous taunting.
The twisting of the crown of thorns, piercing into His scalp.
A scratchy robe laid across His open, throbbing wounds.
His face, eyes, and mouth, swollen and disfigured.
And so much blood—spilled, splattered, shed.
This is Jesus Christ, atoning. He would complete it on the cross, but it didn’t begin on the cross. The atonement didn’t somehow start with the nailing. For example, Isaiah 53 describes Christ’s scourge as part of His atonement when it says that “by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5b, nkjv). All of it is the atoning work of Jesus. It is the wrath of God poured out upon His Son to satisfy the inherent demands of holiness.
Someone had to pay. A holy God could not casually dismiss sin with a wave of His hand and the presentation of a hall pass. Holiness demanded that sin must be paid for. What you see then, in Christ’s suffering and death, is Love finding a way to pay for sin Himself.
The closer your journey leads you to the cross this week, try to avoid detours that would induce you to think of Jesus merely as your example. Don’t be distracted by signs that point to ways following Christ improves your life. Walk as though you’re moving deeper into a funnel, drawing nearer and narrower, until all you see is “Jesus, my Substitute,” taking upon Himself the demands of holiness so that you can be forgiven.
Lord, what kind of worship is appropriate for such total atonement? “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:12–13, esv). I will come to You amazed at what Your Son Jesus has done for me. I will surrender my all to You for as long as I live. I will praise You every day for the gift of grace and the sacrifice of Christ, in the name of Jesus, my Substitute, amen.
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