The Power of the Cross: Wrath Removed (Part Two)

Romans 3:21-26

God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus (3:25-26 CSB).

Next, we see God’s solution for both judicial situations. God the Father acted in both of them. It is important to remember the importance of God the Father in regard to the cross. We have a Trinitarian salvation. At the same time, we must have God’s perspective about the cross. It is the story of his glory. Salvation does not originate in human scheming to bribe God to obtain some kind of blessing. The Father is the author of the plan of salvation. God the Father himself provided the sacrifice of atonement or propitiation, which is at the heart of the message of the cross. We’ll talk about the meaning of “propitiation” shortly. But first we want to realize that God the Father presented Christ as a propitiation (atoning sacrifice, CSB).

Some have wrongly thought that the message of the cross is some sort of heavenly bribery, as if Jesus the Son of God died on the cross to persuade or make the Father to love us. But no, Christ died because the Father loved us (John 3:16; Romans 8:32).

The meaning of what the Father sent his one and only Son to do: God presented Christ as the propitiation for our sins.  To propitiate means to satisfy or pacify wrath, and so to turn it away from those who deserve it. There are four elements in propitiation (John Owen):

  • An offence to be taken away – our sin
  • A person offended whose wrath needs to be satisfied or pacified – God
  • An offending party who is guilty of the offense – us
  • A sacrifice or some means of making satisfaction for the offense – Christ’s death on the cross

The propitiation occurred through the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross. The significance of the blood is that Christ’s life was poured out in death. This answers the great problem of Romans 6:23. He received the wages that were due us. As we saw previously in this series, the blood emphasizes the need of a sacrifice to take away sin and establish a covenant with God. Christ’s better and final sacrifice of himself is the fulfillment of all the types and shadows of the law. He did what they were unable to do.

So then, we come to the result of the propitiation, and here we see the power of the cross. God’s justice is vindicated. He is proved to be righteous: that he might be just. Before God could forgive us, his justice and holiness had to be satisfied and honored. Therefore, God the Father presented or displayed his Son publicly as the propitiation through faith in his blood.

  • This was the deliberate action of God (Acts 2:23). The cross of Christ was not an accident; Jesus was not a martyr. God displayed his Son as the propitiation to carry out and accomplish his plan of salvation for his people.
  • The cross happened in history. On a real day on a hill called Golgotha outside Jerusalem, Jesus was crucified and died the cursed death of the cross. There were real nails, real wood, real thorns and real blood. But the worst of Christ’s suffering and agony was the real and full stroke of justice that he received, God’s infinite wrath received and satisfied by a perfect and infinite sacrifice, Christ himself. This is the power of the cross.
  • This act of justice was observed by people. God demonstrated his justice. All history can see that God honors his justice.
  • God did this to demonstrate his justice “at the present time”. Now God’s justice is vindicated; now we have forgiveness and righteousness. The believers before the cross looked forward to this time, but we look back and can say, “Praise the Lord! God’s justice is satisfied! Our bill is paid in full!”

God declares righteous those who believe in Jesus. This happens through faith in his blood. God is both just and the justifier. God sent his Son into the world to save sinners (John 3:17). However, this propitiation is only for those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22, 26). Those who do not believe in Christ are still under God’s wrath (John 3:36). Those who try to be right with God by their own good works or by observing the law are also still condemned (Romans 3:28; Galatians 1:6-9; 2:16).

Do you understand the power of the cross of Christ? We can be right with God because of what the Lord Jesus did on the cross, if we change our minds and trust in him. Too many people won’t change their minds. They’re still in love with their rebellion against God, or still trying to earn their righteousness by being spiritual or religious. But the only way of salvation is through faith in the finished work of Christ. Are you trusting in Christ alone?

Grace and peace, David

Why Christ Came (Part One)

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10 NIV).

I write this during the Christmas season, which remains a major cultural holiday in the western world. Every follower of Jesus the Messiah views Christmas differently from the people of the world. To us, it is more than a cultural holiday. It is the time we remember that the Son of God took on true humanity. The King of all was born in the lowliest circumstances, and his mother Mary made up his first bed in a manger. There the Shepherd of God’s people received his first visitors, a group of shepherds who would go and tell the good news of his birth. To the world, this is a strange story. To those who believe in God through Christ, this was the first step to the great events of the gospel, the good news of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension,and second coming in glory. We know that the cradle led to the cross and then to the crown. But to accomplish this great purpose, many other purposes were included. Let’s consider them together.

Our first text clearly presents the core purpose that the Father sent his Son to accomplish. God, having decided to rescue his people from eternal ruin, knew what was necessary for our deliverance. A Savior must come to rescue us from the cause and the corruption of our sins. What makes sin such a great evil that a divine Rescuer is needed? Sin is the rejection of God as God, the refusal to love him completely, and rebellion against God and his will and ways. Sin is a heinous crime against the Divine Majesty. Therefore, God sent His one and only Son to do all that was necessary to pay the penalty for our sins and to make us right with him.

To do this, the Son had to become the atoning sacrifice or propitiation for our sins. He had to become what would satisfy God’s righteous wrath against sin and so turn it away from us. To do this he had to be a perfect sacrifice, without spot or blemish, and also powerful enough to absorb the wrath and to provide righteousness by his perfect obedience and sacrifice. Consider what happened when Christ died as the propitiation for our sins. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But 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… Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief (Isaiah 53:4-5, 10a ESV). Ponder what he suffered from God’s hand and weep for our sins that he died for.

Why did God send his Son to die as an atoning sacrifice for our sin? The simple, and beautiful and truly amazing, answer of the Holy Writings is this. God loved us. He loved sinners, who had rejected him as God, refused to love him with the total love that he deserves, and rebelled against his will and ways. John pushed aside any other reason with the all-encompassing rejection of any suggestion that we loved God. Our salvation is traced back to a single source, the love of God.  Christ came because God loved us. Read that and weep also, but for a more glorious reason. Love sent the Lord of glory as a tiny baby. Love caused him to endure the sufferings of life in this broken world. Love took him finally to a cruel cross. And there, redeeming love showed itself in an atoning sacrifice for our sins. This Christmas, focus on God’s love, regardless of all the brokenness and evil that surround us.

Grace and peace, David

The Sufferings of Christ on the Cross (Part Two)

We are pondering what our Lord and Savior suffered on the cross when he died to save his people, those given to him by the Father, from their sins to eternal glory. This rescue required an almighty deliverer. In the previous article, we thought about the physical pain and death he went through on the cross and the horror of the Holy One bearing all the sins of wicked people like you and me. Now, let us focus on two other aspects of what he endured to save us.

Third, the dearly loved One of the Father knew abandonment

  • Christ faced the suffering of the cross alone, abandoned by humans. His disciples fell asleep when he asked them to pray with him (Mark 14:35-42). When arrested, everyone deserted him and fled (Mark 14:50). Compare this with his great love for them (John 13:1). His enemies mocked him and insulted him (Mark 15:25-32).
  • Far worse was that Jesus the Son of God was forsaken by the Father (Mark 15:33-34). He had enjoyed fellowship with the Father from all eternity, sharing in his glory (John 1:1; 17:5, 24). But on the cross, the Father left the Son to suffer alone.

Christ Jesus bore the wrath of God.

  • Another time, we will take about propitiation, where we will see that in his atonement Christ satisfied the wrath of God. In short, by being our substitute he satisfied and took away God’s righteous anger against our sins.
  • We should observe that in other places the Scriptures say that Christ was stricken and afflicted by God (Isaiah 53:4-5; Mark 14:27); yes, God crushed his Servant Christ and caused him to suffer (Isaiah 53:10-11). Who can tell what it meant for the Omnipotent Father to crush his dearly loved Son for us? Only an equally Omnipotent Son could have borne up under the stroke of holy justice. Without explanation, the Spirit tells us of the suffering of the Servant’s soul (Isaiah 53:11), because who could understand how terrible that suffering was? Here, we would do well to weep and praise the Savior!

Here are some reflections on Christ’s sufferings on the cross.

  • He made a complete payment for what we owed. If we suffered for our own sins, we could never pay the penalty, and we could never attain a perfect righteousness with God. But Jesus, the Son of God was able to pay the penalty in full (John 19:30), so that the Lord declares that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). When Christ died for us on the cross, he paid for us in full once for all (Hebrews 9:25-28).
  • What is the importance of the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19)? It is clear evidence that he died a violent sacrificial death (cf. the classic work by Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross). The shedding of blood is clear evidence that his life was given as a judicial execution. The shedding of his blood clearly connects his death as the fulfillment of all the types and shadows of the sacrificial system of the law or old covenant.
  • The atonement that Christ accomplished should be considered a “penal substitution”. He paid the penalty we owed as our substitute.

Let us bow and give thanks to our wonderful, merciful Savior!

Grace and peace, David