Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Purpose of Jesus' Death on the Cross

Last fall I read George MacDonald's The Highlander's Last Song: a beautiful book if you read it for the descriptions of the Scottish landscape and life, and for the romance. When I read it, I was trying to enjoy some easy fiction instead of deep theology, but my discernment alarms started to go off when he wrote about the Cross.

A burdening selection: "Mother, to say that the justice of God is satisfied with suffering is a piece of the darkness of hell. God is willing to suffer, and ready to inflict suffering to save from sin, but no suffering is satisfaction to him or his justice... He knows man is sure to sin; he will not condemn us because we sin... [mother speaks] Then you do not believe that the justice of God demands the satisfaction of the sinner's endless punishment? [son] I do not... Eternal misery in the name of justice could satisfy none but a demon whose bad laws had been broken... The whole idea of the atonement in that light is the merest figment of the paltry human intellect to reconcile difficulties of its own invention. The sacrifices of the innocent in the Old Testament were the most shadowy type of the true meaning of Christ's death. He is indeed the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world. But not through an old-covenant sacrifice of the innocent for the guilty. No, the true atonement of Christ is on an altogether higher and deeper plane. And that is the mystery of the gospel..." (The Highlander's Last Song, originally "What's Mine's Mine" by George MacDonald, this edition edited by Michael R. Phillips and copyright 1986, published by Bethany House)

Tonight, opening Tag Surfer on Wordpress, I came across this post (and sermon link - advertised as only 14 minutes) titled, The Cross. The author begins, "The Father was not punishing Jesus in our place on the cross." In the fourteen minute sermon, though he uses several Bible verses, all of them are taken out of context, contexts which usually include a reference to the blood of Christ taking away our sins, redeeming us, etc. I felt at one point like there was a blow to my heart, when he reported that at the Crucifixion, Jesus and God cheered and celebrated. So much for man of sorrows, and sweating blood in Gethsemane. And the whole way through this horrible, deceptive sermon, this man is associating the biblical view of the Cross and atonement with darkness, with a shackled and blind and guilty perspective of our own that we project onto the Cross, creating a mythology. That is not true! The Bible teaches clearly that Jesus had to suffer and die on a cross so we would not have to die. He is the propitiation, the sacrifice, the lamb, the substitutionary atonement, the righteous fulfillment of God's wrath against our sin. By His stripes we are healed.

The wonderful guys over at Elect Exiles have been doing a wonderful job reminding their readers what the Cross was. Come on, readers; click the links!!

Why Did Christ Die?
Christ's Righteousness, Not Our Own
Saving Reconciliation
The Need for Reconciliation

I started looking up the verses about why Jesus died. There are a lot. There couldn't have been a better reminder of what my God did for me, this Good Friday. (all verses are from the KJV)

Isaiah 53:5-10, "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand."

2 Corinthians 5:21, "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."

Romans 5:8-11, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement."

1 John 4:10, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

1 Corinthians 15:3, "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;"

Colossians 1:20-22, "And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:"

Ephesians 1:7, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;"

Colossians 2:14, "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;"

Matthew 20:28, "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."

Matthew 26:28, "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."

Romans 4:25, "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification."

Galatians 3:13, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:"

Titus 2:14, "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."

Hebrews 2:9, "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man."

Hebrews 9:28, "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation."

1 Peter 2:24, "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed."

1 Peter 3:18, "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:"

To God be all glory.


kschaub said...

Lisa, I read Pastor Jonathan’s comment on his neo-reformation blog. I thought it would be a good idea to point out a few things he misses.

Rom. 3:21, 22 begins Paul’s statement about the righteousness of God that has been manifested apart from the Law through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Jonathan said he deleted your comment because you only listed the verses without interacting with them so their can be dialog. Sounds like an emergent hiccup to me. Anyway, I’ll be charitable here, but also to the point. To begin, any view of the cross that makes penal substitution for atonement unnecessary automatically shifts a few serious accusations against God the Father. Pastor Jonathan may not intend this, but I would simply put forward that he is ignoring God’s righteousness by trying to protect it. In other words, his attempt to say that the cross is not divine child abuse, but a penal substitutionary atonement for our sins is, actually cripples his argument.

I’ll let Paul explain first. In verse 23, he makes it clear, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is a need for sinners to be justified. They are unrighteous and God is righteous. The gospel here looks back at verses 21 and 22, “the righteousness of God that has been manifested apart from the Law through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” For those who believe, as we will see, they are justified by faith in Christ. Christ’s righteousness is made our own (2 Cor. 5:21).

“. . . and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). Two things here . . . first, those who have faith in Jesus are justified by God’s grace as a gift. Justification cannot simply mean a declaration of righteousness without a ransom paid to free us from our sins (cf. Mark 10:45). Redemption is the effect of a ransom paid. Jesus Christ had to die on the cross in order to accomplish the redemption of his sheep. Why?

Look at verses 25-26. “. . . whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” The Greek word for propitiation is loaded with meaning. God put forward Jesus as an atoning sacrifice by his blood. It carries also the idea of expiation also. In the Old Testament, the cover of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies was sprinkled with the blood of the expiatory victim on the annual day of atonement (this rite signifying that the life of the people, the loss of which they had merited by their sins, was offered to God in the blood as the life of the victim, and that God by this ceremony was appeased and their sins expiated). If you take this away from the atonement of Christ for our sins by his blood, you diminish the glory of the gospel.

Why did God put Christ forward as a propitiation by his blood? “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (v. 25b). God dealt with sin decisively on the cross. Jesus laid down his life voluntarily for his sheep and the wrath of God was poured out and exhausted on Christ on the cross. Why? “To show God’s righteousness.” What does that mean? Verse 26 is clear: “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” God put forward Christ as a propitiation by his blood so that he might be just. If there was no atoning substitutionary sacrifice God would not be just to forgive sinners. On the cross, he was no longer “passing over former sins.” Why did God put forward Christ? The second part of the last phrase is equally important: “so that he might be . . . the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

I think that should make it obvious. But, I want to answer a few more objections folks like Pastor Jonathan often have. First, it is often thought that penal substitutionary atonement makes Christ a victim. Pastor Jonathan said, “I believe the Christus Victor theory of atonement.” But so does anyone who believes the Bible. In John 10:11-15, Jesus declares, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep . . . I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” How was the ransom paid? Jesus gave his life. He laid his life down for the sheep, paid by his blood poured out voluntarily for our sake. Jesus was not a victim of the cross. He was the victor by the cross.

One of the arguments against the ransom theory of atonement, especially in its connection the vicarious suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross as our substitute is the question: “to whom was the ransom paid?” Too many have believed Satan held the price of redemption over the heads of sinners, but the ransom was not paid to Satan. It was not offered to our adversary, rather it was paid to God the Father! To say “we are saved by his blood because his blood conquers the evil that is against us” and drop of the truth that Christ died so God “might be the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ Jesus” is to short-change the gospel. God did not owe Satan anything. Jesus did not owe Satan anything. The ransom was not paid to Satan. It was paid to the Father.

If you think the penal substitutionary atonement ‘theory’ makes Christ the victim of divine child abuse, consider reading the beautiful high priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17 in light of Rom. 3:21-26 and 2 Cor. 5:21. Why was he the victor? He laid his life down voluntarily for his sheep. And what? God raised him from the dead, and has “highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).

Finally, if the cross was not ultimately necessary, as Pastor Jonathan’s comment suggests, then why on earth would a just God do it that way? Why would he put forward his only Son if it were not to put him forward as a propitiation for the sins of his people? If it were not ultimately necessary, then the cross would be divine child abuse. But that can never be. God is the just and the justifier.

Lisa, this is actually a further commentary on a post I’m preparing called, ‘Christ, Our Ransom,’ where I plan to answer some of the questions concerning redemption in Christ. Hopefully the short exposition of Rom. 3:21-26 will help clarify a few of the things that seem to be overlooked by those who reject substitutionary atonement as a biblical foundation for justification. There are other ways the Bible speaks of atonement, including Christus Victor, ransom, scapegoat, etc. But, I think it is very hard to reject penal substitution without cutting out large chunks of the Bible and tossing them in the trash. I’m just not willing to do that, especially when the great exchange, my sin for his righteousness, is so beautiful that it boasts Soli Deo Gloria. “So what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded” (Rom. 3:27). Instead I will boast in Christ.

Lisa of Longbourn said...

"Too many have believed Satan held the price of redemption over the heads of sinners, but the ransom was not paid to Satan."

My sisters were watching The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the other day, and I stopped in for the part in which Aslan is negotiating for Edmund's life. The White Witch says the blood of a traitor belongs to her, etc. This is a false position, then? And is that not also portrayed in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ? (I used the image because all the other pictures I could find were the renaissance Jesus, not very to the point.)

One of the best things I had to read in school was Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. I've gone back to it over and over. In this case it points out that we need to be in fear of God's wrath, not of the Devil.

Thanks for the comment, Kschaub, the help. I thought of including Romans 3, but it took too much explanation; I carefully chose verses that spoke for themselves, and which addressed the points Pastor Jonathan was making. I'll go back and repost over there with a little explanation. The Bible isn't spam.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Lisa of Longbourn said...


CAN the Father in His justice burn in everlasting flame
Souls that, sunk in foulest squalor, never knew the Father's Name?

Can the Love of man be greater than Eternal Love divine?
Can the heart of God be harder than this hardened heart of mine?

Can the pangs of Hell be endless, void of object, void of gain,
Save to pay for years of sorrow with Eternity of Pain?

Curs├Ęd be the foul contortion, that hath turned His Love to Hate,
That hath cried at death's dim portal, " Enter here and 'tis too late."

Cruel pride and vain presumption claim to grasp where angels grope;
'Tis not God but mean man's blindness dims the deathless star of Hope.

By GA Studdert-Kennedy

He, apparently, was in one of the World Wars. He wrote about Jesus' love, and tried to figure out what to do with the despair and evil he saw around him. I can pity this man's attempt, but think he would have found more peace accepting God for who He is.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Drew said...

Hey thanks for the links. I am glad our posts on reconciliation and the atonement have been encouraging to you. The atonement really is the epicenter of the war against orthodox theology right now.

I read you post and the scriptures you posted, and was encouraged to glory in my redeemer who has paid the penalty for my sin, faced the wrath of God on my behalf and worked faith in my dead heart!

Keep discerning carefully what you read and keep standing strong for the biblical teaching on the atonement!

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Brother Hank at just posted this among quotes about the Cross:

"...Any gospel that talks about the love of God without pointing out that his love led him to pay the ultimate price for sin in the person of his Son on the cross is a false gospel. The only true gospel is of the ‘one mediator’ (1 Tim. 2:5-6), who gave himself for us. ” - James Montgomery Boice

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Lisa of Longbourn said...

I was thinking about Ben-Abba's comment, and it reminded me of something Ken Ham wrote:

“Imagine living in a sinful state for eternity, separated from God. But He loved us too much for that, and He did a very wonderful thing. In placing on us the curse of physical death, He provided a way to redeem man back to himself. In the person of Jesus Christ, He suffered that curse on the cross for us. He tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9). By himself becoming the perfect sacrifice for our sin of rebellion, He conquered death. He took the penalty which should rightly have been ours at the hands of a righteous judge, and bore it in His own body on the cross.”

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

kschaub said...

Lisa, sadly I'll admit I'm only familiar with the movie-version of 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.'

I suppose you can give a better explanation of what is going on there.

I doubt 'The Chronicles of Narnia' intends to express the truths of Christianity in complete harmony with the various expressions of atonement given in the Bible. In the movie, it was a little confusing there. But it was also beautiful when Aslan came back in glory. However, if Lewis really intended to show that the ransom was being paid to the Witch, then he did not get that right.

Still, I am not really sure if that is what he was saying (at least, in the movie). The Witch was surprised to see Aslan return in his glorious strength to defeat her, and if I remember right, Aslan told the girls the Witch did not understand the 'magic' or 'words of the book' or whatever term Lewis uses in the book.

I don't know if that answers that issue or not.