GOD AS REDEEMER
“But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13).
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
If you are like I am you probably get these notices in the mail of great good news about how many millions of dollars you have won. Then when you read the fine print, you find that there’s a condition: your number must turn out to be the winning number. “In the meantime, buy our magazines.”
The angel told the shepherds of Bethlehem that he brought “good tidings of great joy . . . to all people” (Lk. 2:10, 11). Is his Good News like that of Readers Digest and Publishers Clearing House, etc.—a huge condition that makes it meaningless to the average person who doesn’t know how to meet the conditions?
There is indeed one huge condition to this Good News: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). But that one great condition doesn’t mean that the Gift was not given; the Bible plainly says that it was given. There was no condition to the giving; Christ gave Himself to death for us “while we were yet sinners. . . . enemies” (Rom. 5:8, 10). We have to be honest and confess that the Gift was unconditional.
But the reception of the gift, ah, that is another matter. The reception is up to us. Only by believing can we receive the Gift that is already given. If I give you a gift, no strings attached, and then you throw it away, that doesn’t change the fact that I gave it to you.
One wise messenger of the gospel whose mind was guided by the Holy Spirit says of this kind of case: “I still insist that you don’t believe.” What does he mean? He goes on: “The price that was paid for us was [Christ’s] own blood—His life . . . ‘redeemed . . . with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.’ . . . He ‘gave Himself for us, . . . for our sins.’ . . . ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ . . . The price paid was infinite” (E. J. Waggoner, Christ and His Righteousness, pp. 75, 71).
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18).
“And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son (Gen. 22:12, 13).
Some of the most magnificent writing ever done since the world began was crafted by an ancient Hebrew prophet, Isaiah. He was the Poet Laureate of his distinguished nation. He anticipated in vivid poetry the awe that our Hubbard Telescope has impacted on us: “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: He calleth them all by name by the greatness of His power.” “Who hath meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure?” (40:26, 12).
It was Isaiah who long ago anticipated Mel Gibson in creating a better-than-cinema version of the Passion of Christ’s last twelve hours. Isaiah imposed on the monitor screens of the human race the horror of Christ’s suffering which He endured for humanity, yet it was not mere senseless physical brutality that Isaiah described, not a pathetic, mindless flogging of a human body almost to pulp, but Isaiah portrays the infinite suffering of One who is a God-man. Isaiah’s version has created the noblest music and poetry of the human race: “Behold, My Servant . . . shall be extolled and be very high. . . . His visage marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men. . . . Kings shall shut their mouths at Him. . . He is . . . a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. . . Surely He hath borne our griefs, . . . He hath poured out His soul unto death [the Bible knows only the second], . . . and He bare the sin of many” (52:13-53:12).
Is it a mere coincidence? Millions of Christians worldwide are celebrating Isaiah’s description of the cross of Christ. It’s his chapters from 52:13 through 53:12—the story of how the world and how God’s people were “astonished at Christ.” Never had anyone even dreamed of what the Messiah would do when He came! “Kings will shut their mouths at Him.” The glorious Prince of heaven “in the form of God,” in the highest place of the great universe, became a man whose “visage was so marred more than any man.” The Father covered the earth with supernatural darkness to shield from anyone’s gaze the face of His innocent Son while He endured the unspeakable horror of God-forsakenness. Only an infinite divine/human Savior could endure on a cross the infinite hell of being “made sin for us who knew no sin” (see 2 Cor. 5:20, 21).
This week we ponder the world’s moment of truth—the fate of the world, yes, of the universe, when it trembled at the cross. Nothing in the Bible probes it so deeply as Isaiah 53.
* And we are “astonished” at what He accomplished on His cross: “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.” The most awful blind misjudgment of 6000 years!
* Whose is the “our”? Who is the “we”? The only answer possible: the human race, ”all men,” “every man” (Rom 5:18; Heb 2:9). You and I, personally.
* “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.” Whose?
* “The chastisement of our peace was upon Him.” There was a kind of divine karma that Hinduism has never dreamed of: a perfect balance between every moment of human happiness ever known and the corresponding “chastisement” that was laid on Christ. He had to make a payment to cover every human pleasure, pay for every human breath. Hinduism is wrong to teach that we must pay a price in karma for our every sin or pleasure. Christ paid the price! The transaction has been done.
* “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” That’s why we are “healed,” why we’re not now in hell itself. We can do nothing now but live for Him alone—that is, live a life of joyous obedience motivated by an at-one-ment faith.
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 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” (Isa. 53:3-5).
God is not aloof to the sufferings of his children. “He . . . became a man of sorrows . . . acquainted with grief.” Jesus Christ felt “afflicted and ready to die, from my youth up” (Ps. 88:15). From the first time He witnessed the sacrifice of the innocent lamb, on His first trip to the temple for the Passover feast, He realized that He was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isa. 63:9). There is nothing that God is more intimately acquainted with than suffering and death. From the time of it’s inception, sin has caused the heart of God more suffering than is humanly possible to imagine. The prophet Jeremiah recorded these words: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there be any sorrow, like unto His sorrow, which is done unto me, that which the Lord has afflicted me in the day of His fierce anger” (Lam. 1:12).
In “tasting the death” for everyone (Heb. 2:9), there is no sorrow “like unto His sorrow.” If we begin to see that, we do not need to feel alone in suffering or in watching those dear to us suffer. We have a Comforter who brings to us the assurance that Jesus Christ was touched with our feelings—in every way.
Ask any group of Christians, “Why did Jesus die on His cross?” and they will tell you, “He died as our Substitute.” And that’s 100% true. But what does it mean? How does that truth make any difference in the way we live?
We say, “He died instead of us,” and that’s true; He did. If you had been drafted in the American Civil War of 1861-65, you could hire a substitute to take your place and die instead of you; now you can enjoy life while he suffers and his loved ones mourn. “My substitute has taken my place!” It’s a vicarious substitution. And you can think of the sacrifice of Christ in that same way. He died instead of you.
But is it a childish way of thinking of His cross? Is it basically egocentric?
The Bible goes far deeper: Christ’s sacrifice is also a shared substitution. “I am crucified with Christ,” says Galatians 2:20. “We were baptized into Jesus Christ, . . . baptized into His death, . . . buried with Him by baptism into death, . . . planted together with Him in the likeness of His death, . . . our old man [the love of self] crucified with Him, . . . dead with Christ.” If all this is true, then “we shall also live with Him” (Rom. 6:3-8). But only IF.
One is the kindergarten, flower-girl-at-the-wedding idea of substitution—very, very true; but the other is the bride “growing up unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), prepared to stand with Him side by side in the “marriage of the Lamb.” It’s a time for divine-human intimacy never before realized by the body of His church.
Apparently the Bridegroom believes the time has come for His people to “grow up.” The long delay must weary Him. Does it weary you?
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18, 19).
“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 Pet. 2:24).
“They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared” (Mark 10:37-40).
The cup which Christ drank was the curse of the God-forsaken death on the cross. Those who drink that same cup with Christ by choosing rather to be crucified with Him in the final time of trouble rather than choose to same themselves will over come even as He overcame. These will be granted to sit with Him on His throne. They will be a final demonstration of the power of the gospel to deliver from sin. They will be granted executive authority in Christ’s great controversy with Satan.
“For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
One controversy that has stirred good Christian people for 400 years is between Calvinism and Arminianism. The problem is what the Bible means when it says so clearly that “Christ died for the world,” is “the Savior of the world,” “gave Himself a ransom for all men,” “tasted death for every man,” is “the propitiation for the sins of the whole world,” “all are being justified freely by His grace,” “the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life,” etc. Calvinists have always said those texts mean that Christ has accomplished salvation for some people—that is, only those whom God has predestinated to be saved. Arminians say those texts mean that “all men” have a potential for being saved, it’s possible for them to be saved, but it is only IF; Christ didn’t actually accomplish salvation for anyone UNLESS . . . And between these two views a great gulf is fixed.
The story of Esau resolves this controversy of 400 years. It was an accomplished fact that he HAD the “birthright.” It was his by birth, no one could take it from him, not even God, for it was his by the oath of God to the firstborn among Abraham’s descendants.
But Esau “despised” what was HIS and what had been GIVEN him, and then he “sold” it. And “Esau” is the name of every person who will finally be lost. Christ GAVE salvation to him but he wouldn’t have it. He refused to receive the atonement that would have reconciled his alienated heart to God and to God’s holy law. He has unfitted himself for heaven. Don’t be Esau!
The idea of “in Christ” appears many times in Paul’s letters. Sometimes he applies the phrase unmistakably to the personal conversion experience of those who believe. Other times he unmistakably applies it to the entire human race which has been redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ. Both the righteous and the wicked will come up in resurrection because they are all “in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:22). That does not mean that the wicked have had a conversion experience, far from it; but when Adam sinned and lost the headship of the human race, Christ stepped in to become the second Adam. Paul says he reversed the evil to the race that Adam had done; Christ came to save the world, and He redeemed it. He did more than offer life to “all men,” for He GAVE the gift to all men. It’s like Esau and his birthright; it was not offered to him, it was given to him. The only reason he failed to reap the blessings of the inheritance was because he despised and sold it (Gen. 25:33, 34).
But now as Head of the human race He enters into the darkness of hell on His cross, dying our death, doing what in John 3:16 He says He doesn’t want us to do—He tastes what it means to “perish.” It’s terrible beyond any words. We can’t grasp it unless we understand Galatians 3:13: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written [quoting Moses], Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Deut. 21:22, 23, KJV). Thus He was “made to be sin for us who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). For you personally, intimately—not only instead of you but as you—He dies your second death. Now in thanks what will you do for Him?
Is God calling the whole world to observe His cosmic Day of Atonement—the antitypical fulfillment of the Yom Kippur still observed by devout Jews? Or is His call limited to a relatively small group who at present discern it in the Judeo-Christian Bible?
What we know for sure is this: (a) God so loved the world that He gave. . . .” (John 3:16). (b) Christ is “the Saviour of the world, specially of those that believe” (1 Tim. 4:10). (c) The Old and New Testaments teach a cosmic Day of Atonement truth; the same Savior who redeemed the world now calls the world to accountability for redeeming it from eternal death (Matt. 25:31, 32). (d) Christ’s Day of Atonement message (“the hour of His judgment”) is to be proclaimed “to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6). (e) That truth as good news is to be proclaimed with unprecedented “great power, and the earth [is to be] lightened with His glory;” “a strong voice” is to proclaim, “Come out of [Babylon], My people” (18:1-4). (f) As “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen. 18:25) and as the God who “is love” (1 John 4:8) who did “taste death [the second] for every man” (Heb. 2:9), He has the undisputed right to make a statement to the world. And “every man” for whom He “tasted [that] death” has the duty to listen. What is He saying?
Is there anywhere a human heart that by nature doesn’t have a storm inside? If you are perfectly at-one-with God, you belong in Heaven. Well, at least, it’s your job to help those billions who by nature share the universal human problem of alienation from God. “Why has He allowed ME to suffer? Why ME . . . to endure injustice? Is God fair?” One may piously exude all the self-righteous phrases while deep inside unanswered questions destroy our “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). And it’s not only teens who have that cauldron boiling inside; grey-hairs do, too.
Here’s a shocker: the closer you come to Jesus Christ, the bigger you will realize your problem to be. Come VERY close to Him, and you will “taste” the depth of the darkness He experienced on His cross when He cried out, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken ME?” If one has never grown up out of innocent childhood, he may never think or feel on that level; but Jesus did. “Why doesn’t God DO something?” is the heart-cry of the person who dares to think, not only about his own tiny little problems, but about . . . well, why do the poor have to suffer while the rich have long since left being millionaires (now you’re nobody unless you’re a billionaire), . . . and why must the innocent suffer so? “My God, My God, why have You forsaken our world?”
Back again to the cross on Calvary: in that total darkness, while He hung there in that deepest perplexity and despair, He made a choice—to BELIEVE that His Father was good even though everything was shouting in His ears that His Father was unjust. In total darkness, in the vastness of empty heart-broken space, He built a great bridge between alienated humanity and God. It’s called the Atonement, the at-one-ment. If His Father has forsaken Him, HE WILL NOT FORSAKE HIS FATHER.On His cross He built something out of nothing, like He had created a universe out of nothing. At any cost, He will believe Good News. He will create Good News. You don’t have to build that Bridge; all you have to do is, well, believe that He built it.