When Jesus cried “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” the reality behind this cry staggers the imagination. God was forsaken by God. What we formerly knew of the Father in infinite holiness turning his back on his Son who had become sin for us remains true. But now we see God’s action in the bearing of his punishment. God, who is too holy to look upon sin, is at the same time God who so identifies with us that he suffers the abandonment of the holy God.
Joseph was told by an angel to name his son Jesus, because he would save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).
In times past in Egypt, the Passover lamb had borne people’s sins, but now Jesus came into the world to become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). In our time, some would have us confess Jesus as Savior, but they suggest that he saved us by doing something other than taking our sin away. Or if they admit that sin needs to be taken away, then they say that Jesus does this by training us not to sin. In either case, we are left with something other than biblical salvation.
No plan of salvation that leaves out Christ’s payment for sin is a biblical plan of salvation. Yet I find that those who fight for this doctrine (may they always be given the honor that is their due) are often so focused on the truths under contention that they forget to flesh them out with other biblical truths. In the heat of battle, it is forgotten that we must not only contend for that part of the truth that is being attacked, but we must also tell the whole truth, even the part that might not be objected to. It might put the controversial statements in a new light. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement needs to be fleshed out with the doctrine of Christ’s deity, his two natures, and the Lord’s Supper if people are to see just how glorious a teaching is at stake.
Purchased with God’s Own Blood
The doctrine of substitutionary atonement teaches us that Christ saved us by paying for our sins; that is, he died in our place. As the Scriptures say, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Christ, who being sinless did not need to die, laid down his life for the sake of those who were condemned to death. The resurrection shows that God accepted the payment as complete. Christ was raised for our justification. It is what Luther called the great exchange. When we are united to Christ, God looks at us as if we had done our time. Eternal hell is our sentence, and we show up in God’s presence as if we had done the unthinkable and made full payment. Of course, we did not. Christ did it for us, but we receive the benefit.
Yet, many pastors have preached the cross in such a way that the most stunning element of the picture is missing, or at least hidden. At a specific point in human history, the almighty Second Person of the Trinity, the Lord of Glory, stooped down and took on a human nature.