Monday, November 11, 2013

"Christ, Our Sacrifice"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
The Sanctuary
Lesson 7: "Christ, Our Sacrifice"
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 absolutely true. But what does it mean? How does that truth make any difference in the way we live? What's the difference between the Evangelical understanding of Christ's substitution and the heart-moving 1888 message dynamic?
During the Civil War a person could pay $300 for a substitute to go to war on his behalf and fight and even die, while the other was free to go home to his family and make a living. He was grateful that he wasn't wasted in that awful war because of his substitute, so that he could resume life as usual. But his selfishness remained intact.
This is the popular idea of Christ's substitution. But it's a childish understanding, especially in view of our sanctuary truth. Living as we are in the cosmic Day of Atonement, it's time to grow up.
Our lesson repeatedly refers to Christ's sacrifice as vicarious. This word is never used in the Scriptures and only once in the Spirit of Prophecy. If you want a vicarious experience with a world-class mountaineer, go on YouTube and view Sir Edmund Hillary's first-ascent of Mt. Everest. You will have a virtual experience, but it's not actual. If you want an actual experience of climbing, ask a mountaineer to guide you to a summit and share the moment with him.
What is the idea of substitution which uproots our selfishness? It's the biblical teaching of Christ identifying Himself in our fallen humanity. He came not as if He were us, but as us. When we see the true Christ, then we are moved to share His experience of the crucified life. Christ's atoning sacrifice is a shared substitution.
"The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, ... and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:5, 6). Peter says that His identity with our sins was deep, not superficial, for "His own self bare our sins in His own body" (1 Peter 2:24).
Vicarious substitution is an exchanged "experience" which actually does not become experience, because it requires separating Christ from us by forcing Him to take only the sinless nature of Adam before the fall and keeping Him "afar off" in vicarious isolation. An actual substitution is a shared experience which is identity "with Christ," which sees Him as "Immanuel, God with us," fully sharing our common fallen humanity "yet without sin" so that He can truly "succor [aid] them that are tempted" (Heb. 2:18).
The popular Evangelical "vicarious" concept denies the believer a sense of shared participation with Christ. The Bible goes far deeper: Christ's sacrifice is also a shared substitution. In His first lesson on the cross Jesus told us, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him ... take up his cross, and follow Me. ... Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matt. 16:24, 25).
There are about a billion Muslims who are turned off by what many of them regard as an obstacle against their becoming Christians: the Crusades of the 11th to 13th centuries demonstrate openly for all time that "Christianity" is a cruel and unjust religion (they say); and the doctrine that one man's righteousness can substitute morally for another man's unrighteousness. In fact, their theologians connect the Crusades to that doctrine of vicarious moral substitution. It's unjust, and unfair, they say.
We know first: the Crusades were not true, biblical Christianity. Second, could the doctrine of a vicarious substitution be explained to Muslims more clearly? Does the Bible also teach the truth of a shared substitution?
Paul understood this idea of shared substitution: "I am crucified with Christ" (Gal. 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 fulness 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.
If "our" Crusaders had understood this, world history would have been different! Praying for the Muslims is good, but not good enough: we must tell them the gospel clearly, truthfully.
The destiny of this planet hangs on the outcome of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. The victory of Christ over Satan in Gethsemane and on His cross exposed Satan's true character to the unfallen universe so that "the great dragon ... was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him," says John. "And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation. ... and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ" (Rev. 12:9, 10). In other words, so far as heaven is concerned, Christ has won the great war.
But as to the inhabitants of this planet, "the great controversy" goes on until "our brethren" can be described: "they overcame him [the dragon] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony" (Rev. 12:10, 11).
This is not an "insurance policy" kind of relationship with the Lamb--you pay your premium ("I accept Christ!"), and now He "covers" for you in a "vicarious substitution" way, as the insurance company "covers" your loss if your house burns down. You don't trouble your head--they "cover" for you.
Revelation pictures "our brethren" in a far more intimate relationship with the Lamb than the popular egocentric concern, "I'm okay, I'm covered, I'm saved! I'll sit back, relax, and 'occupy until [He] comes.'"
The sanctuary service which illustrates this "great controversy" tells us that now is the cosmic Day of Atonement--time for total experiential one-ness with Christ "through faith." His people become "partakers of the divine nature," they experience "I am crucified with Christ," they "comprehend" the grand dimensions of His love (agape), they "overcome even as [Christ] overcame," they "grow up into Him" "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." It's as a bride intimately "at one-ment" with her husband. They sense the heart-burden that Jesus carries. This is more than "vicarious substitution." It's realizing a "shared substitution," an intimate one-ness with the Lamb through faith. Do you see this as Good News?
--Paul E. Penno

Note: “Sabbath School Today” and Pastor Paul Penno’s video of this lesson are on the Internet at:
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