Broadcasting now. Watch Live.

Christology: The Atonement - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2018-01-21 PM
  • Anchored Section 3
  • Sermons


I think you understand that all of the religions on this planet include some concept of atonement. Because there has to be some means by which sin is dealt with, and by which the deity is satisfied for human shortcomings. Somehow reconciliation has to be achieved between the offending sinner and the offended deity. All man-made religions are built on the idea that the worshipper himself, must atone for his sins. You are responsible in all man-made religion to atone for your sins to some degree. You must somehow erase your guilt; typically, through things like doing good works, performing some ritual, performing some act of penance, or offering a sacrifice. It is this issue, the issue of atonement, that separates the Christian faith from the rest of the world's religions. Because it is Christianity alone which says that God Himself, the One who has been offended, is the One who made full, and complete atonement for sinners.

I hope you never get over that reality. You are not responsible to atone for your sins. You are not responsible to somehow do something that brings you into relationship with God, your Creator. Instead, our gracious God, has acted by Himself, to bring atonement. And shockingly, that atonement has been made by the substitutionary sacrifice of His own Son on the cross. This concept, the concept of God Himself making atonement for our sins, is at the very heart of the Christian gospel itself. It was at the heart of God's eternal plan of redemption. In fact, listen to Ephesians 3:11, it describes the mission of Christ as, "the eternal purpose which God carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord." "The eternal purpose which our God carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord." Or here's how Peter put it on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:23. He said, "this Man," speaking of our Lord, "this Man delivered over," listen to this, "by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death." This was God's plan to set us right with Him.

We want to look at the atonement tonight from a variety of perspectives. Now, let me just tell you, this is part one. Later, we will come back, because there is so much to be said here. Lord willing, the next time we look at this topic, we will look at the, sort of, sticky issue of the extent of the atonement. For whom did Jesus make atonement, and other important, crucial issues. But tonight, we really just begin to look at it together.

And I want us to start by looking at the necessity of the atonement. The necessity of the atonement. Was God compelled by His own character to redeem sinners? Think about that question for a moment. Was God compelled? Was there something in the attributes and character of God that demanded the atonement by Jesus Christ. Another way to say this is: could God simply have decided to forgive without the atonement of Jesus Christ and have done so by divine fiat, just like He made the world. He said, "Let there be light," and there was light. Could God have said, "Let the sinner be forgiven," and the sinner be forgiven without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ?

The overwhelming majority of theologians, hold to a position called, "the consequent absolute necessity of the atonement." You get the idea, even if you are not familiar with the expression. This view basically makes two points regarding the necessity of the atonement. Number one, it was not absolutely necessary to the character of God to save anyone at all. Think about that for a moment. Let that settle in to your mind. God would have been perfectly just to have abandoned all of humanity and to have consigned every human being justly to eternal hell, and it would have been in keeping with the character of God, to have done so. He could have consigned every one of us to hell. That, by the way, is exactly what He did with the angels who sinned. Not one of them will ever be saved. And God could have done the same thing with sinful humanity. So, your redemption, and I hope this drives you home tonight with a heart full of gratitude, because your redemption was not an absolute necessity, nor was that of any other person.

The second part of this view, the consequent absolute necessity of the atonement, says, not only was it not absolutely necessary to the character of God to save anyone, but, however, once God had determined to save a people for His Son, the death of Jesus Christ became absolutely necessary. Once God had decided to create man, once He had decided to prevent the fall, once He had decided, out of that fallen humanity to redeem, the death of Jesus became an absolute necessity. So, once the Father decided to redeem fallen people, there was no other way to accomplish our redemption, than through the death of His Son- it was necessary. There was no other way once God decided to redeem. There was no other way for a righteous holy God to reconcile you to Himself, than through the violent death of His own eternal Son. That was the only way. This is what the Scriptures teach. It is. Let's look at just a few of them together.

In Matthew 26:39, Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He's within hours of His death, and it says, "He went a little beyond the disciples, and He fell on His face and He prayed," and this is what He said, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me." I think the cup that He's alluding to here is not the physical suffering, but the separation from the Father. "If it's possible," don't let it happen; "yet not as I will, but as You will." You tell me, was it an absolute necessity? The Father always hears the prayers of the Son. If it had been possible, the cup would have passed from Him. But it wasn't, it wasn't possible.

Luke 24, after the resurrection, verses 25 and 26 Jesus said, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!" Now watch this, "Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?" It was an absolute necessity. It was a compelling reality that had to be accomplished. Hebrews 2:17. The writer of Hebrews says, "Jesus had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, and it was only in this way that He could make propitiation for the sins of the people." That He could satisfy. That word propitiation means to satisfy the justice of God. To satisfy the righteous anger of God against sin. This was the only way. Hebrews 9:23, "Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these." He's talking about the earthly tabernacle and temple, "but the heavenly things themselves," it was also necessary that they be cleansed, "with better sacrifices than these." It had to happen. It had to happen.

Hebrews 9:25-26,

Nor was it that Jesus would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that's not his own. [Now watch verse 26], Otherwise, [if that's what was required], He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

Sacrifice was necessary, but not many sacrifices, just one. The once for all eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Why? Because Hebrews 10:4 says, it was, "impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." And that's why, he goes on to say, when Jesus came into the world, God gave Him a body, so that He could become the sacrifice that would take away sins. It was the only possible way.

Was the atonement necessary? Well, in one sense, no. In that God didn't have to save anybody. But it was necessary, once God decided to redeem, because it was the only way possible to make you and to make me, right with God. There was no other way. How bad our sin must be. How righteous God must be. And how incredibly loving and gracious He must be to do this.

Now, that brings us to the cause of the atonement. We looked at the necessity. Let's look at the cause of the atonement. What would motivate God, to deliver me from the pit that my own hands had dug? Especially when it meant rescuing a rebel against Him and His authority, and it meant that it would cost Him, sacrificing, disavowing, pouring out His justice on His own Son. What could possibly be the divine motive behind the atonement? Why did He have to do so in the way He chose. The Scriptures tells us there were primarily two causes.

First of all, his own character. His own character compelled Him toward the atonement. He didn't have to, we just looked at the necessity. But once He decided that He was going to redeem, He had to do it this way for two reasons. First of all His character. Scripture clearly teaches that it was necessary once God decided to redeem man because of who He was. John 3:14, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness," Jesus says, "even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." It's required, it's imperative, it's the only way for sinners to be saved from the predicament into which they have gotten themselves. God had to. But not for reasons outside of God, but for reasons within God, within His own character.

First of all, His justice. John MacArthur, in his Systematic Theology, writes this,

Though God's love motivates Him to save and forgive, man's sin cannot simply be overlooked. For God to reconcile such guilty sinners to Himself, sin must be punished. The broken law must be satisfied, and God's wrath must be justly assuaged. [Or turned aside].

This is what the Scriptures teach. When you look at Exodus 34, you remember that amazing self-revelation of God. Moses says, God, show me Your glory. Tell me who You are and let me see Your glory. And, of course, he just got a glimpse, as it were, of God's back, but then God proclaimed His name to him, and this is what we read in Exodus 34:6,

The LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The Lord," [YHWY, the I Am], "the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and truth; who keeps steadfast love for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin."

Wouldn't we love it if there was a period right there, boom. And that's all that's true of God, but it's not. Here is the conundrum. The great riddle of the Old Testament. Because God says, I am gracious, I am compassionate, I show steadfast love, I forgive iniquity, transgression, and sin; yet. Yet... notice what He says,

"He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. [God says, I am as unwavering in My justice, as I am in My grace]. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generation."

By the way, that doesn't mean He punishes children and grandchildren for their parents' and grand parent's sins. It means that He inspects the subsequent generations of those who hate Him, and He finds they too hate Him, and He deals with them and their sin. And yet, often God intervenes, doesn't He? Because He's gracious. Brings a new generation to Himself. But He will, by no means, leave the guilty unpunished. This is God's justice.

Romans 3:25-26,

God publicly displayed Jesus as a propitiation in His blood through faith. [To satisfy the just wrath of God], this was to demonstrate God's righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Now, I believe there are two things going on in that verse. I believe, He is saying that He publicly displayed Jesus as a propitiation as a satisfaction and He had two great eternal purposes. One of them was to vindicate His righteousness in doing anything good to sinners; in letting them live. In letting you live and me live a moment longer than our first sin. In giving us good things. It ran the risk of sullying the justice of God, by His simply doing good to those who deserved immediate wrath and punishment. And in the cross, Jesus bought the right, for God to vindicate His righteousness in letting sinners live, in giving them common grace. In other words, at the cross, Jesus bought common grace. So, God could be gracious to sinners who don't know Him. Because otherwise, His righteousness would have been stained. His justice.

But then He goes on to say, secondly, at the cross, He made it possible for God to justify sinners. That He may be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Him. God's justice demanded and caused the cross. But that's not all in His character that motivated the atonement. Also, His love. Again, listen to MacArthur, I love this, he says,

Often the concept of a penal [that is, having to do with law], substitutionary atonement, in which the Son must die in the place of sinners, to assuage the wrath of the Father, is reproached by foes and misunderstood by friends. To many, this view of the atonement, pictures the Father as inherently angry and wrathful toward man, and as won over, only reluctantly, by the loving sacrifice of the Son. [MacArthur says], however, this is precisely backward. The Father does not love His people strictly on the grounds that Jesus died for them, rather, Jesus died for His people because the Father loved them.

In other words, the Father is the One who initiated the plan of redemption. And it was the Son who volunteered to carry it out. We were loved by both of them, but it wasn't that the Father was somehow reluctant in this whole idea of atonement. Well, okay Son, if that's what you're going to do, I guess, I'll go along. No! Jesus died for us because the Father loved us. This is in the most familiar verse in the Scripture, John 3:16, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." It was His love that was behind the atonement, "that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."

In 1 John 4, in fact, turn there in your Bibles. First John, and notice verse 8,

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us [or maybe, among us], that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.

You want to know about God's love, the Father's love? Look at the fact that He the Son into the world for you. What else could the Father do to prove His love than that? What more could He do? Verse 10, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and [in loving us] sent His Son to be the propitiation [the satisfaction of His just wrath against] our sins."

What were the causes of the atonement? Well, God's own character. His justice? Yes. His justice had to be satisfied. He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. You understand, that every single sin that has ever been committed, every thought, every word, every act, must and will be punished by the justice of God. Not one sin will ever go unpunished. Not one sin you've ever committed will ever go unpunished. Either you will suffer for it eternally or you will believe in the atonement offered by Jesus Christ, and He will have suffered for it in your place. But, the justice of God demands that every sin be punished. And His love moved Him to supply that atonement in His Son.

There's one other aspect of the character of God that is behind the atonement; not only His justice, and His love, but also, His gracious will in electing sinners to salvation. This was behind it, he decided in eternity past to give a love gift to His Son, a redeemed humanity. And in John 17:2, Jesus prays, and He says, "You gave the Son authority over all flesh that to all whom you have given Him He may give eternal life." Father, you had decided to give Me a redeemed humanity, and that's what lies behind the atonement.

So, God's own character is one of the great causes of the atonement. The second one is His own glory. His own glory. Turn to Ephesians, chapter 1. I love this passage. In Ephesians 1, you have a sort of a hymn of praise. It's prose, but yet, it reads like a hymn, because it celebrates the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ, beginning in verse 3, running down through verse 14. And there are three sections to this hymn.

The first one focuses on the role of the Father in the atonement, in the redemption. The second part of this hymn, beginning in verse 7, focuses on the role of the Son. And then, beginning in verses 13 and 14 you have the role of the Spirit in our redemption. But each one of these stanzas of praise to God for what He has done for us in redeeming us, ends the same way: with a sort of refrain- that's why I called it a hymn.

Notice, first of all in verse 6, as He finishes talking about the Father's role primarily in electing, those who would be redeemed by the Son. He says, He did this, verse 6, "to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved." God acted to redeem, for the glory of His grace. To put the magnificence of His grace on display. Verse 12, the end of the second stanza about the role of the Son, it says, " to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory." This is why the plan of redemption was carried out. This is why atonement was made.

And then, finally, the third stanza, in verses 13 and 14 about the Spirit, ends the same way.

The Spirit was given as a pledge of our inheritance with a view to the redemption of God's own possession [our ultimate salvation- why?] to the praise of His glory.

Do you understand that God acted to save you, not just because it would save you, it would rescue you, but for His own glory, to put Himself on display? This is the cause of the atonement.

So, we've looked at the necessity of this atonement. We've looked at the cause of the atonement. Let's move on now to look at the nature of the atonement. The nature of the atonement. What exactly are we talking about when we're talking about the atonement? Well, I need to begin with some false theories of the atonement. In other words, these are wrong ideas about why Jesus died. Some of them, you really don't hear about anymore, others of them are very popular today. So let's just walk through the primary false theories of the atonement.

First of all, there is the ransom to Satan theory. This was initiated by the early church father, Origen. There are no known current proponents; that is, serious theologians who take this view, but it is a common misunderstanding perpetuated by C.S. Lewis and his series, The Chronicles of Narnia, where he has essentially the Aslan offer himself to the white witch. The Ransom to Satan theory, the definition of this is this: Christ death was a ransom paid to Satan to purchase those who would believe, from Satan, because of his rightful claim to them. There are a few proof texts. I am not going to look at the proof texts for these theories, you can look at them at your leisure if you want, but the chief problem with this view is that Christ's death was a judgment on Satan according to Colossians 2, not a payment to him. In His death, He defeated Satan and all of his hosts. Not made some sort of payment to buy us back from Satan.

A second false theory of the atonement is the recapitulation theory. This was started by Irenaeus, the early church father, Irenaeus. There are no current proponents of this, but it says this, Christ in His life, recapitulated or experienced all of human life including sin, and death, and by doing so reversed the course that Adam set. There are some proof texts that they use for that. The problem with this is it undermines ultimately the sinlessness of Christ. He did not personally experience sin, and therefore, death.

Thirdly, there is the satisfaction or commercial theory, it's called by both names. This is primarily the product of Anselm in the Middle Ages. There are no current proponents of it, but this view says that sin robbed God of His honor, and Christ's death brought infinite honor to God. God rewarded the death of Christ by viewing it as a work of supererogation. In other words, He accomplished more value, more merit than He Himself needed. He then, passes on Christ's stored up merits to those who respond to Christ in faith. The problem with this view is it elevates God's honor above His other attributes, and, at the very heart of it, it denies what the Bible teaches is the heart of the atonement and that is vicarious, that is in place of another, atonement.

Fourthly, there's the moral influence theory. This one, is alive and well. The moral influence theory, the first proponent of it that we can note in church history is a man called Peter Abelard, in the Middle Ages, in the 1100's. And the proponents later came to be the Socinians, heretics who taught a number of wrong things. We'll meet them again in our study of theology, and talk more about them. And later liberal theologians of all varieties. If you go to many of the liberal churches around our city, you will find that they hold this moral influence theory of the atonement and this is how it's defined. Christ's death was not necessary to atone for sin. Instead, it served as a profound demonstration of God's love, and that demonstration of God's love, softens men's hearts, and moves them in and of themselves to repent, as they see this expression of God's love. And repentance is defined in a lot of different ways, and many times the word itself isn't used, but this is the idea. There's a number of proof texts. This was, but the way, the emerging church. You remember when that was a big deal, back, I don't know five, ten years ago, the emerging church? This was its theology of the atonement. And it's still alive and well, although the emerging church movement has essentially died. The theology behind it is still very much alive.

D.A. Carson, in his book, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, written back in 2005, quotes Brian McLaren, who was one of the leaders of that movement. Brian McLaren puts these words into the mouth of a fictitious character. Speaking about the death of Christ satisfying the justice of God. He says, "That sounds like one more injustice in the cosmic equation. It sounds like divine child abuse." McLaren just sort of leaves that sort of objection hanging out in the air, but then, there's a passage that McLaren was pulling from. It comes from two British writers, Steve Chalke and Alan Mann wrote a controversial book called, The Lost Message of Jesus. Chalke, I believe that's how his last name is pronounced, is well known in Britain, and Mann is his researcher and collaborator, and they wrote a critique of what they call, quote, "the myth of redemptive violence." In other words, they're writing against what you and I believe happened at the cross. And here's what they wrote, quote,

The fact is the cross isn't a form of cosmic child abuse. A vengeful father punishing his son for an offense he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside the church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement that God is love. If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards human kind, but borne by his son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus' own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to reply to evil with evil.

They go on to say, that the cross serves, this view, as a profound demonstration of the love of God. On the cross, Christ quote, here's Chalke and Mann,

On the cross, Christ absorbed all the pain, all the suffering caused by the breakdown in our relationship with God, and in doing so demonstrated the lengths to which a God who is love will go to restore it. [As they see it, quote] the cross [quote] is a symbol of love, it is a demonstration of just how far God as Father and Jesus and his son are prepared to go to prove that love. The cross is a vivid statement of the powerfulness of love.

It is true. The cross is a demonstration of the love of God, but that is not all the cross is. And that's all that this view wants to make it and the problem is, in this view, no atonement is required. The basis of Christ's death is solely God's love.

A fifth false view of the atonement is the example theory. This was initiated by Socinus, a Heretic, in the 1500's. The current proponents of this view are the Unitarians, Openness of God theologians. And this view says this, Christ's death did not atone for sin, instead it provided an example of faith and obedience that inspires man to repent and live a similar life. It was just an example. And the problem with this view, of course, is that Christ was only a man, and no atonement was necessary, God could just forgive.

A sixth false view of the atonement is the governmental theory. By Grotius, again in the time of the Reformation, there are several who currently are proponents of this. Here's the governmental theory, God's government demanded Christ's death so that God could demonstrate His high regard for His law and His hatred of sin. Christ did not suffer the penalty required by the law, but God accepted Christ's death as a token payment for sin, and as a substitute for the penalty that the law required. The problem with this view is that God sets His law aside and He forgives without the law's penalty being met. In other words, it compromises God's justice.

So, none of those are a legitimate view of the atonement of our Lord, so what is? What is the biblical doctrine of the atonement? The reformers really were the first to fully and completely clarify what the Bible teaches on this issue; most notably, John Calvin. Trying to understand that, Wayne House writes this,

Christ's death, as they understood it, was a vicarious [that means substitutionary] sacrifice that satisfied the demands of God's justice upon sin paying the penalty of man's sin, bringing forgiveness, imputing righteousness, and reconciling man to God.

There is the atonement from a biblical perspective.

Alan Cairns, in his excellent book, Dictionary of Theological Terms, writes this, "The satisfaction of divine justice by the Lord Jesus Christ in His active and passive obedience [that is, His life and His death] which procures for His people a perfect salvation." That is the atonement. Now let's take a closer look at how we arrive at those definitions from the Scripture. First of all, let's consider the biblical words involved.

When you look at the Old Testament, you have the word, kafar. Kafar. It's translated as, to make atonement. Literally, it means to cover. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Septuagint, and in the New Testament, the word that's used instead is hilaskomai, which means to propitiate. To satisfy the justice of God, the just wrath of God; that is, to make atonement. The other biblical word, is calach, the Hebrew word, calach. It's translated as to forgive, but it has the meaning of lightness, of lifting up or of sending something away. That's why in the Septuagint again, in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, and in the New Testament, the Greek word aphiemi is used, which means to let go, or to forgive. What I want you to see, is that the concept of atonement occurs in both testaments, we're going to see this as we move along here for the next few minutes.

The American Theologian, Shedd, writes this,

The connection of ideas then, in the Hebrew text appears to be this, [listen carefully], the suffering of the substitute animal, [in the Old Testament system], has the effect to cover over the guilt of the real criminal and to make it invisible to the eyes of God. When this is done, the transgressor is at rest.

That's that kafar, to cover over. The sacrifice covers over the sin of the sinner and shields it from the vision of God, so that God no longer sees that sin. He no longer sees that guilt. Shedd continues,

By the suffering of the sinner's atoning substitute, the divine wrath on sin is propitiated, and as a consequence of this propitiation, the punishment due to sin is released, and not inflicted upon the transgressor. This release, or this non-infliction of penalty is forgiveness in the biblical representation.

In other words, when we talk about forgiveness, what is that? It means that God no longer sees the sin, it's covered by the sacrifice. And He doesn't respond to that sin as it deserves. There is a non-infliction of penalty, now and forever. Why? Because He's already inflicted it on the substitute. The law's penalty has been met in our substitute.

Now, Christ's covering or atonement for our sins consists of two parts. First of all, Christ's obedience. This is sometimes called His active obedience. We're talking about Jesus' 33 years of righteous living. This is part of the atonement. This is part of how He dealt with our sins. This is why He couldn't just come down, you know, Easter week, and be here a week and go back to heaven. He needed to live a life. The life of conformity to God's law that you should have lived, that I should have lived. This is His active obedience.

The other part of the atonement consists of Christ's sufferings. This is often referred to as His passive obedience. Not because He was passive, but as a way of contrasting it to His active obedience, His obeying the law. Now the terms active and passive are not completely helpful, because Christ actively obeyed even in His sufferings and both His active and passive obedience continued throughout the whole of His life. But I still think these terms are helpful to us, to sharpen our thinking about what Christ accomplished for us. So let's look at them together. By the way, by Christ's sufferings or passive obedience, we're talking about His suffering and His dying for our sins. So let's look at these two together. But, before we look at them, I want you to understand why both sides are important. Because you and I have two basic problems that need atonement.

Our first problem is objective guilt. The objective guilt we have before God's law. Both through the inherited guilt from Adam and the guilt that we have accumulated by our own personal sins. We need forgiveness, we need pardon, because we have real legal guilt before God, the Law- giver, and the Judge. The is inherited and accumulated as I said.

Our second problem, though, is a total lack of positive righteousness. If in His work, Christ had only earned forgiveness for our sins, do you understand, that you and I would be in no better position than unfallen Adam and Eve? Because to be accepted by God as righteous like them, we would need for a period of time to demonstrate righteousness in our living. So our problem then, is not only the guilt of sin, but also the lack of positive righteousness. We don't simply need moral neutrality, sins forgiven. We need positive, moral righteousness. It is the righteousness of Christ that meets this need in the atonement.

Let's look at Christ's active obedience; that is, His obeying God, as you and I should have obeyed God, in His life. In Isaiah 53:11, it says, "By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities." Notice, the only way the servant, speaking of Jesus, pointing forward to the suffering Messiah, the only way that He could justify the many, was because He Himself was what? The Righteous One. That was required. In fact, in Hebrew, the two words stand side-by-side: the righteous one will declare righteous the many. This is the only way, He had to be righteous, in order for us, to be made righteous in Him.

Matthew 3:15, you remember at His baptism. You remember the baptism of John the Baptist? You know what it was? The baptism of John the Baptist was a preparation for the coming of the Messiah. It was a proselyte baptism. It's the kind of baptism that a Gentile, who wasn't a Jew, would undergo to enter into the preparation for the coming of the Messiah. But John the Baptist called on Jews to be baptized with a proselyte baptism of repentance. It was a way of saying, I am no better than a Gentile. I am a sinner in need of repentance, and I need to prepare in repentance for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus came to be baptized by John. Jesus didn't need a proselyte baptism of repentance. So why? Listen to what he says, Jesus said to John when John said, "'I need to be baptized by You', Jesus said answering said to him, 'Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.' And then he permitted Him."

Jesus needed to do it on behalf of those for whom He was living. Romans 3:23, speaks of the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe. What is that righteousness? Romans 5:19, "For as through the one man's disobedience [Adam], the many were made [or constituted to be] sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous." In Romans 8:3-4,

What the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us.

God sent His own Son, not as sinful flesh, but in the likeness of sinful flesh, He was the righteous One, who could make an offering for sin.

First Corinthians 1:30, we read it this morning in our Scripture reading, "by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us [what?] righteousness." We get His righteousness. And, of course, you know I love 2 Corinthians 5:21, "the Father made Christ who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." He gets our sin, we get His righteousness. This is His active obedience.

Philippians 3:9, Paul says, I want to, "be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but the righteousness which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith." And as we've seen in these other passages, what is this righteousness? It's the righteousness of the Son, it's the righteousness of His perfect life. Do you understand, that Jesus lived for 33 years in your place? He did everything you should have done. He loved God the way you should have loved God. He thought the way you should have thought. He respected and obeyed His parents the way you should have, and I should have. He worshipped the way we should have worshipped. He cared for others and loved them, the way we should have. He lived in your place, He didn't just die in your place. So that that righteousness, could become yours.

The righteousness that we need comes from Jesus Christ. It's called the righteousness of God, but more precisely, it's the righteousness of Christ. By the way, this stands, this is at the heart, what we're talking about, when I get Christ's righteousness, this is at the heart of the gospel. It's the crust of what the reformers meant by Solus Christus. That is, it's not my righteousness that makes me right with God, it's Christ's righteousness that makes me right with God.

But this is the polar opposite of what the Roman Catholic church taught and still teaches. What Rome teaches about justification was codified at the Council of Trent, a mid 16th century response to the Reformation. And Trent teaches that justification as I have explained to you before occurs in three stages. First of all, there is preparation. In adults, this involves repentance, faith, and the intention to be baptized. There is secondly, beginning. At baptism, God infuses grace, quote, "whereby an unjust man actually becomes just." And then, there is increase. Justification is increased by obedience, and good works.

Listen to Trent, "Through the observance of the commandments of God and the church, faith cooperating with good works, believers may quote 'increase in that righteousness in the grace received through Christ and by their good works' are further justified." Now you say, Tom, are you interpreting that accurately? Well, fortunately one thing the Council of Trent was was clear. So here is the anathema that makes it very clear, quote,

If anyone says that the righteousness received in justification is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but instead teaches, that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification attained [which is exactly what we believe the Scripture teaches], but not because of justification's increase, let that person be damned. [Let them be anathema].

So, Roman Catholicism taught and still teaches that my God enabled good works contribute to my right standing before God. In Galatians 1, Paul calls that a false gospel. It's adding works to the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The reformers replied to the view of Trent by saying that our standing before God has nothing to do with our own righteousness. Our only hope is a righteousness completely outside of us, alien to us, they called it an alien righteousness. Listen to Luther,

Christian righteousness is not a righteousness that is within us and clings to us as a quality or virtue does, but it is an alien righteousness entirely outside of us namely Christ Himself, is our essential righteousness, and complete satisfaction.

Folks, do you understand, you're only hope, my only hope is Solus Christus? Through the righteousness of Christ alone. That's what we mean. So, there's Christ's active obedience. His active righteousness.

But there's also the other side of it, His passive obedience. Again, not a perfect label, but it's meant to differentiate it from His perfectly obeying God's law throughout His life. When we speak of His passive obedience, we mean His sufferings on our behalf. And His sufferings were involved, frankly, in His whole life. In Isaiah 53:3, Isaiah says, "He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised," and the Jewish people looking back at the Messiah when they come to faith say, "we did not esteem Him."

And that's true of us as well. We did not esteem Him. His whole life was, in reality, a life of suffering, temptation, struggle. In the Temptation of Christ recorded in Matthew 4 we see this reality. In Hebrews 5:8, it says, "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered." It doesn't mean He was ever disobedient, it means that God the Son, until He became man, had never personally experienced the struggle that you and I experience to walk in obedience to God. He did and He never wavered, perfectly obeyed, but He learned that, from a life of suffering.

Hebrews 12:3-4, "consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself," His whole life! He was said to be illegitimate. When He started His ministry, He was attacked. He was called, one who was in league with the devil. Casting out demons by the power of Satan himself. His family, his brother, said He was nuts, crazy. Mark, chapter 3. His whole life was a life of suffering, and in the end, it was in our place.

But primarily, when we talk about Christ's passive obedience, we're talking about His suffering and death on the cross. Certainly that includes His physical suffering. Isaiah describes it, Isaiah 53:5, it links His physical suffering to the redemption that He purchased. "He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him. And by His scourging, we are spiritually healed."

But the primary suffering of Christ was not the physical suffering. That's why I don't like movies like The Passion of the Christ that try to make it all about the physical suffering of Christ. Read the Gospels, and they spend very little time focusing on the physical sufferings, even on the fact of the crucifixion itself. Because something much greater was going on there. When we talk about His passive obedience, we're talking about His suffering in death, bearing the weight of sin's guilt. Not just physical suffering, but bearing the weight of sin's guilt. He was perfectly pure and holy. We can't imagine what that's like. Lord willing some day we will be that, but we can't begin to imagine what it's like never to have sinned in thought or word or act, but that was Him. And yet, what happened on the cross? God put in the account of Jesus Christ the accumulated sin guilt of every person who would ever believe in Him. In other words, remember every sin has to be punished, God credited to Jesus' account on the cross, every sin you have or will ever commit. You can't even remember them all, and neither can I, but every one of them was put in the account of Jesus Christ. And on the cross, He felt the full weight of the guilt of every one of those sins just as we do, although He had not committed them.

Isaiah 53:6, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord [listen to this, the Lord] has caused the iniquity [that word iniquity is a word which means guilt; He has caused the guilt of us all; that is, all of us that would ever trust in Christ, to what?] To fall on Him." The Hebrew is even more picturesque. The word is to strike Him. He caused our guilt to strike Jesus. He felt the full weight of it.

Isaiah 53:12, "Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, He was numbered with the transgressors [treated like He was a transgressor, and here's why]; He Himself bore the sin of many," [He bore the sin, what does that mean? It means God credited the guilt of all of those sins to Him. And for those hours God treated Him as if He had committed every one of those sins. Every one of your sins. Every one of my sins.] He interceded for the transgressors."

John 1:29, "The next day he saw Jesus coming to him [John did], and he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" You know what that's a picture of? Most likely it's the picture of the scapegoat on the day of atonement. Where the high priest would put his hands on the head of that goat and transfer figuratively, confessing the sins of the people, transfer the guilt of those sins to that animal. And then he was chased outside of the camp, chased out into the wilderness to die. Away from the people of God because he bore their guilt. John the Baptist saw Jesus and said, "Behold the lamb of God, who picks up and carries off the sin of the world." Just like that scapegoat. The weight of sin's guilt.

Second Corinthians 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin." It doesn't mean He sinned, it means He transferred to Him the guilt of every sin of His people.

Galatians 3:13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us." He took the curse of God on our sins. Hebrews 9:28, "Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many," He was offered once to bear the sins plural. All of them individually of many that is of all of those who believed.

First Peter 2:24, "He Himself, [I love this expression, He Himself], bore our [again plural], sins [every single one of them] in His own body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness for by His wounds, you were healed."

So God credited our sins to Christ. God considered our sins as actually belonging to Christ. It doesn't mean Christ had a sinful nature. It doesn't mean God thought Christ Himself had sinned, but God transferred the legal liability for our having actually broken the specific commands to Christ. And on the cross, He treated Jesus as if He had actually committed those sins, although, in fact, He had not. And the amazing thing about this. Is that although the Father credited our sins to Christ, Christ received them voluntarily and willingly. He loved us. That's what Ephesians 5 says. He loved us and offered Himself to God as a sacrifice for us.

The final part of Christ's passive obedience is that He embraced and endured the wrath of God against sin. Wayne Grudem writes,

Jesus became the object, [listen to this, Jesus became the object], of the intense hatred of sin and vengeance against sin which God had patiently stored up since the beginning of the world.

God is just, and every sin offends His justice, offends His holiness, and must be dealt with and must be paid for, but they weren't paid for. From the beginning of the world until Christ entered the world, all of that guilt was simply stored up. And all of God's just wrath against those sins was never fully dealt with, it was simply stored up. And then Christ came. And on the cross, it's as if there were on the person of Jesus Christ, a kind of inverted pyramid, in which during those six hours, He endured the stored up wrath and anger of God against the sins of everyone who would ever believe.

That's why in Matthew 27:46, in that suffering, "About the ninth hour Christ cried out with a loud voice saying, 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?'" It was on the cross that He made according to Romans 3, propitiation, he satisfied the wrath of God. Hebrews 2:17, "He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might make propitiation [satisfaction for the wrath of God] for the sins of the people."

First John 2:2, "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins. And not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." John says, not just for Jewish people, but for us as well. In 1 John 4:10, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son [don't ever read this the same again, He sent His Son] to be the full and complete satisfaction of His wrath." For you, for me. "In this is love."

Let's pray together.

Father, I feel that I have so inadequately expressed the reality of the atonement of our Lord, Jesus Christ. I pray that you would take Your word, that I have shared with Your people, and may the truths that we've discussed tonight, fill our hearts with joy, and worship, and gratitude, and service, and love, and sacrifice. Remind us that He died for us so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. May our lives be a living sacrifice in response to such love.

Father, I pray for the one here tonight who may not know you. Lord, they have seen in verse after verse after verse, the gospel. May they come to put their confidence in the active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ as their only hope of redemption before their head hits the pillow tonight.

We pray in Jesus' name.


Anchored Section 3