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To Absorb the Wrath of God
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree."
God put [Christ] 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.
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
1 John 4:10
If God were not just, there would be no demand for his Son to suffer and die. And if God were not loving, there would be no willingness for his Son to suffer and die. But God is both just and loving. Therefore his love is willing to meet the demands of his justice.
God's law demanded, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5). But we have all loved other things more. This is what sin is — dishonoring God by preferring other things over him, and acting on those preferences. Therefore, the Bible says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We glorify what we enjoy most. And it isn't God.
Therefore sin is not small, because it is not against a small Sovereign. The seriousness of an insult rises with the dignity of the one insulted. The Creator of the universe is infinitely worthy of respect and admiration and loyalty. Therefore, failure to love him is not trivial — it is treason. It defames God and destroys human happiness.
Since God is just, he does not sweep these crimes under the rug of the universe. He feels a holy wrath against them. They deserve to be punished, and he has made this clear: "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4).
There is a holy curse hanging over all sin. Not to punish would be unjust. The demeaning of God would be endorsed. A lie would reign at the core of reality. Therefore, God says, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them" (Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:26).
But the love of God does not rest with the curse that hangs over all sinful humanity. He is not content to show wrath, no matter how holy it is. Therefore God sends his own Son to absorb his wrath and bear the curse for all who trust him. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13).
This is the meaning of the word "propitiation" in the text quoted above (Romans 3:25). It refers to the removal of God's wrath by providing a substitute. The substitute is provided by God himself. The substitute, Jesus Christ, does not just cancel the wrath; he absorbs it and diverts it from us to himself. God's wrath is just, and it was spent, not withdrawn.
Let us not trifle with God or trivialize his love. We will never stand in awe of being loved by God until we reckon with the seriousness of our sin and the justice of his wrath against us. But when, by grace, we waken to our unworthiness, then we may look at the suffering and death of Christ and say, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the [wrath-absorbing] propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).CHAPTER 2
To Please His Heavenly Father
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief.
Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Jesus did not wrestle his angry Father to the floor of heaven and take the whip out of his hand. He did not force him to be merciful to humanity. His death was not the begrudging consent of God to be lenient to sinners. No, what Jesus did when he suffered and died was the Father's idea. It was a breathtaking strategy, conceived even before creation, as God saw and planned the history of the world. That is why the Bible speaks of God's "purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began" (2 Timothy 1:9).
Already in the Jewish Scriptures the plan was unfolding. The prophet Isaiah foretold the sufferings of the Messiah, who was to take the place of sinners. He said that the Christ would be "smitten by God" in our place.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet weesteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. ... All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:46)
But what is most astonishing about this substitution of Christ for sinners is that it was God's idea. Christ did not intrude on God's plan to punish sinners. God planned for him to be there. One Old Testament prophet says, "It was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief" (Isaiah 53:10).
This explains the paradox of the New Testament. On the one hand, the suffering of Christ is an outpouring of God's wrath because of sin. But on the other hand, Christ's suffering is a beautiful act of submission and obedience to the will of the Father. So Christ cried from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). And yet the Bible says that the suffering of Christ was a fragrance to God. "Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:2).
Oh, that we might worship the terrible wonder of the love of God! It is not sentimental. It is not simple. For our sake God did the impossible: He poured out his wrath on his own Son — the one whose submission made him infinitely unworthy to receive it. Yet the Son's very willingness to receive it was precious in God's sight. The wrath-bearer was infinitely loved.CHAPTER 3
To Learn Obedience and Be Perfected
Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.
The very book in the Bible that says Christ "learned obedience" through suffering, and that he was "made perfect" through suffering, also says that he was "without sin." "In every respect [Christ] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).
This is the consistent teaching of the Bible. Christ was sinless. Although he was the divine Son of God, he was really human, with all our temptations and appetites and physical weaknesses. There was hunger (Matthew 21:18) and anger and grief (Mark 3:5) and pain (Matthew 17:12). But his heart was perfectly in love with God, and he acted consistently with that love: "He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth" (1 Peter 2:22).
Therefore, when the Bible says that Jesus "learned obedience through what he suffered," it doesn't mean that he learned to stop disobeying. It means that with each new trial he learned in practice — and in pain — what it means to obey. When it says that he was "made perfect through suffering," it doesn't mean that he was gradually getting rid of defects. It means that he was gradually fulfilling the perfect righteousness that he had to have in order to save us.
That's what he said at his baptism. He didn't need to be baptized because he was a sinner. Rather, he explained to John the Baptist, "Thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15).
The point is this: If the Son of God had gone from incarnation to the cross without a life of temptation and pain to test his righteousness and his love, he would not be a suitable Savior for fallen man. His suffering not only absorbed the wrath of God. It also fulfilled his true humanity and made him able to call us brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:17).CHAPTER 4
To Achieve His Own Resurrection from The Dead
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will.
The death of Christ did not merely precede his resurrection — it was the price that obtained it. That's why Hebrews 13:20 says that God brought him from the dead "by the blood of the eternal covenant."
The "blood of the ... covenant" is the blood of Jesus. As he said, "This is my blood of the covenant" (Matthew 26:28). When the Bible speaks of the blood of Jesus, it refers to his death. No salvation would be accomplished by the mere bleeding of Jesus. His bleeding to death is what makes his blood-shedding crucial.
Now what is the relationship between this shedding of Jesus' blood and the resurrection? The Bible says he was raised not just after the blood-shedding, but by it. This means that what the death of Christ accomplished was so full and so perfect that the resurrection was the reward and vindication of Christ's achievement in death.
The wrath of God was satisfied with the suffering and death of Jesus. The holy curse against sin was fully absorbed. The obedience of Christ was completed to the fullest measure. The price of forgiveness was totally paid. The righteousness of God was completely vindicated. All that was left to accomplish was the public declaration of God's endorsement. This he gave by raising Jesus from the dead.
When the Bible says, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17), the point is not that the resurrection is the price paid for our sins. The point is that the resurrection proves that the death of Jesus is an all-sufficient price. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then his death was a failure, God did not vindicate his sin-bearing achievement, and we are still in our sins.
But in fact "Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father" (Romans 6:4). The success of his suffering and death was vindicated. And if we put our trust in Christ, we are not still in our sins. For "by the blood of the eternal covenant," the Great Shepherd has been raised and lives forever.CHAPTER 5
To Show The Wealth of God's Love and Grace for Sinners
One will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.
The measure of God's love for us is shown by two things. One is the degree of his sacrifice in saving us from the penalty of our sin. The other is the degree of unworthiness that we had when he saved us.
We can hear the measure of his sacrifice in the words, "He gave his only son" (John 3:16). We also hear it in the word Christ. This is a name based on the Greek title Christos, or "Anointed One," or "Messiah." It is a term of great dignity. The Messiah was to be the King of Israel. He would conquer the Romans and bring peace and security to Israel. Thus the person whom God sent to save sinners was his own divine Son, his only Son, and the Anointed King of Israel — indeed the king of the world (Isaiah 9:6-7).
When we add to this consideration the horrific death by crucifixion that Christ endured, it becomes clear that the sacrifice the Father and the Son made was indescribably great — even infinite, when you consider the distance between the divine and the human. But God chose to make this sacrifice to save us.
The measure of his love for us increases still more when we consider our unworthiness. "Perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:7-8). We deserved divine punishment, not divine sacrifice.
I have heard it said, "God didn't die for frogs. So he was responding to our value as humans." This turns grace on its head. We are worse off than frogs. They have not sinned. They have not rebelled and treated God with the contempt of being inconsequential in their lives. God did not have to die for frogs. They aren't bad enough. We are. Our debt is so great, only a divine sacrifice could pay it.
There is only one explanation for God's sacrifice for us. It is not us. It is "the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7). It is all free. It is not a response to our worth. It is the overflow of his infinite worth. In fact, that is what divine love is in the end: a passion to enthrall undeserving sinners, at great cost, with what will make us supremely happy forever, namely, his infinite beauty.CHAPTER 6
To Show His Own Love For Us
Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
[He] loved me and gave himself for me.
The death of Christ is not only the demonstration of God's love (John 3:16), it is also the supreme expression of Christ's own love for all who receive it as their treasure. The early witnesses who suffered most for being Christians were captured by this fact: Christ "loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). They took the self-giving act of Christ's sacrifice very personally. They said, "He loved me. He gave himself for me."
Surely this is the way we should understand the sufferings and death of Christ. They have to do with me. They are about Christ's love for me personally. It is my sin that cuts me off from God, not sin in general. It is my hard-heartedness and spiritual numbness that demean the worth of Christ. I am lost and perishing. When it comes to salvation, I have forfeited all claim on justice. All I can do is plead for mercy.
Then I see Christ suffering and dying. For whom? It says, "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25). "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28).
And I ask, Am I among the "many"? Can I be one of his "friends"? May I belong to the "church"? And I hear the answer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13). "Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43). "To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). "Whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
My heart is swayed, and I embrace the beauty and bounty of Christ as my treasure. And there flows into my heart this great reality — the love of Christ for me. So I say with those early witnesses, "He loved me and gave himself for me."
And what do I mean? I mean that he paid the highest price possible to give me the greatest gift possible. And what is that? It is the gift he prayed for at the end of his life: "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory" (John 17:24). In his suffering and death "we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). We have seen enough to capture us for his cause. But the best is yet to come. He died to secure this for us. That is the love of Christ.CHAPTER 7
To Cancel the Legal Demands of the Law Against Us
And you, who were dead in your trespasses ... God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
What a folly it is to think that our good deeds may one day outweigh our bad deeds. It is folly for two reasons.
First, it is not true. Even our good deeds are defective, because we don't honor God in the way we do them. Do we do our good deeds in joyful dependence on God with a view to making known his supreme worth? Do we fulfill the overarching command to serve people "by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 4:11)?
What then shall we say in response to God's word, "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23)? I think we shall say nothing. "Whatever the law says it speaks ... so that every mouth may be stopped" (Romans 3:19). We will say nothing. It is folly to think that our good deeds will outweigh our bad deeds before God. Without Christ-exalting faith, our deeds will signify nothing but rebellion.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die"
Copyright © 2006 Desiring God Foundation.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION: Christ and the Concentration Camps,
FIFTY REASONS WHY JESUS CAME TO DIE,
1 To Absorb the Wrath of God,
2 To Please His Heavenly Father,
3 To Learn Obedience and Be Perfected,
4 To Achieve His Own Resurrection from the Dead,
5 To Show the Wealth of God's Love and Grace for Sinners,
6 To Show His Own Love for Us,
7 To Cancel the Legal Demands of the Law Against Us,
8 To Become a Ransom for Many,
9 For the Forgiveness of Our Sins,
10 To Provide the Basis for Our Justification,
11 To Complete the Obedience That Becomes Our Righteousness,
12 To Take Away Our Condemnation,
13 To Abolish Circumcision and All Rituals as the Basis of Salvation,
14 To Bring Us to Faith and Keep Us Faithful,
15 To Make Us Holy, Blameless, and Perfect,
16 To Give Us a Clear Conscience,
17 To Obtain for Us All Things That Are Good for Us,
18 To Heal Us from Moral and Physical Sickness,
19 To Give Eternal Life to All Who Believe on Him,
20 To Deliver Us from the Present Evil Age,
21 To Reconcile Us to God,
22 To Bring Us to God,
23 So That We Might Belong to Him,
24 To Give Us Confident Access to the Holiest Place,
25 To Become for Us the Place Where We Meet God,
26 To Bring the Old Testament Priesthood to an End and Become the Eternal High Priest,
27 To Become a Sympathetic and Helpful Priest,
28 To Free Us from the Futility of Our Ancestry,
29 To Free Us from the Slavery of Sin,
30 That We Might Die to Sin and Live to Righteousness,
31 So That We Would Die to the Law and Bear Fruit for God,
32 To Enable Us to Live for Christ and Not Ourselves,
33 To Make His Cross the Ground of All Our Boasting,
34 To Enable Us to Live by Faith in Him,
35 To Give Marriage Its Deepest Meaning,
36 To Create a People Passionate for Good Works,
37 To Call Us to Follow His Example of Lowliness and Costly Love,
38 To Create a Band of Crucified Followers,
39 To Free Us from Bondage to the Fear of Death,
40 So That We Would Be with Him Immediately After Death,
41 To Secure Our Resurrection from the Dead,
42 To Disarm the Rulers and Authorities,
43 To Unleash the Power of God in the Gospel,
44 To Destroy the Hostility Between Races,
45 To Ransom People from Every Tribe and Language and People and Nation,
46 To Gather All His Sheep from Around the World,
47 To Rescue Us from Final Judgment,
48 To Gain His Joy and Ours,
49 So That He Would Be Crowned with Glory and Honor,
50 To Show That the Worst Evil Is Meant by God for Good,
BOOKS on the Historical Reliability of the Bible's Record,
RESOURCES from Desiring God,