Pastors Dever and Lawrence expound key biblical texts on the atonement to show its centrality throughout Scripture, strengthen the church's commitment to this doctrine, and demonstrate its application to the Christian life.
About the Author
Mark Dever (PhD, Cambridge University) is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and president of 9Marks (9Marks.org). Dever has authored over a dozen books and speaks at conferences nationwide.
Michael Lawrence serves as the lead pastor of Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon. He earned a PhD in church history from Cambridge University and an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Lawrence is the author of Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church.
Read an Excerpt
Why did Jesus come to atone for our sins? And how did he do so? What we hope to do in the fourteen expositional messages in this book is simply to show that the doctrine of penal substitution is clearly taught in the Bible. Now, what we mean by "penal substitution" is simply that Jesus stood as a substitute for his people, taking the penalty that was due to those who actually deserved it. In other words, when Jesus died on the cross and bore the wrath of God, he was standing in our place.
For various reasons this traditional Christian idea has fallen on hard times in many quarters. Secular writers see the idea of Christ's sacrificing himself for sinners as a vestige of primitive religion, one that should have been abandoned, as religion evolved to a more bloodless, humane theology and practice of peace and goodwill to all. After all, the argument runs, human sacrifice was eventually replaced by animal sacrifice, and even that was gradually phased out, too. Indeed human society has now largely evolved out of such superstition altogether. Belief in sacrifice fades with belief in God, which in turn fades into simple belief in ourselves. And that, people think, is the way of truth.
We are used to hearing such unbelief from unbelievers, but in recent years even some self-professed Christians have expressed great discomfort with the idea of atonement, and especially with the idea of penal substitution. Often, their discomfort is expressed in language objecting to anyone who would say that "penal substitution" is the only way to talk about the atonement Christ has made. That would be a sound objection, yet I don't know anyone against whom it could justifiably be made. No one I know argues that "penal substitution" is the only way to talk about the atonement of Christ. Of course there are many images that the New Testament uses to talk about what Jesus accomplished on the cross: the language of redemption speaks economically about buying someone out of slavery; there is medical imagery about overcoming diseases, and martial language about victory and warfare as Christ leads us to triumph. But in addition to all these there is also a very clear theme in the New Testament of penal substitution, from Jesus' explanation of his own death as a "ransom for many" to Paul's declaration that Jesus the sinless one "became sin for us." When we speak of Jesus as our substitute, therefore, we are speaking in a deeply biblical way about what Jesus accomplished for us at Calvary. In these studies of several crucial texts of Scripture, we hope to see this and understand it and exult in the richness of God's love to us in Christ.
We begin our studies in the Old Testament book of Exodus. Exodus begins with Moses' birth and calling in the first four chapters, and then, starting in chapter 5, Moses obeys God by confronting the great pharaoh of Egypt and demanding the release of the Israelites. At the same time, he declares God's judgment on the pharaoh's arrogant refusal to obey by announcing divine plagues on Egypt.
In chapter 12 we come to the tenth, the final, the climactic of those plagues, and the surrender of Pharaoh to God's demands. As we look at this chapter, we want to answer four important questions:
1) What is the Passover?
2) What happens when you have no Substitute?
3) What happens when you do have a Substitute?
4) Who remembers the Passover?
1) What Is the Passover?
A short answer to this first question is that the Passover, just as its name suggests, is God's passing over someone as he judges, a benefit provided through a substitute.
Here is how the book of Exodus records God's instructions to the Israelites about the first Passover:
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire — head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover.
"On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
"This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD — a lasting ordinance. For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat — that is all you may do.
"Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread."
Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.
"Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?' then tell them, 'It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.'" Then the people bowed down and worshiped. The Israelites did just what the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron. (12:1–28)
Here the Lord instructs Moses about the Passover and especially about his people's need for a substitute to die in their place. In verse 3 specifically, the Lord instructs Moses to "tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household." A lamb would be needed, a Passover lamb that would die sacrificially so an Israelite family would be passed over in judgment.
The Israelites were to make a meal of the lamb. It was important that there be enough, verse 4 says, so that everyone could participate, but equally so that there not be too much, so that none would be wasted. Not only so, but the Passover lamb was to be special! Just like other sacrificial animals, this lamb was to be without defect (v. 5).
Now, the fact that the lamb was to be without defect makes you think of what? Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:18–19:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Jesus is the one whom John the Baptist called "the Lamb of God" (John 1:29, 36). And John of the Revelation reported seeing in his heavenly revelation "a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne," (Rev. 5:6). All these images were reflecting the Passover. Moreover, we see in Exodus 12:6 that the lamb was to be sacrificed "at twilight." According to the historian Josephus the Passover lambs would be killed at about 3PM, the same time that Jesus died (see Luke 43:44–46).
Something else about this slain lamb is that its blood seems to be especially significant. According to Leviticus 17:11, blood symbolized two things: the life of the victim and the life of those for whom it was substituted. Thus, in verse 7 comes the most important instruction of all: the Israelites were to take some of the slain lamb's blood and put it around the entrance to the house, "on the sides and tops of the doorframes" of the house where they would eat the meal. It is in Exodus 12:12 that the Lord is clearest about why he instructs his people to do this: "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD." Yahweh, the one true God, the Creator and Judge of all, is executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt! The ones in whom the Egyptians' hopes rested were to be killed, and in such a way that there would be no natural explanation for it. This was to be a clearly divine statement. The Lord would show publicly that the Egyptian gods were utterly powerless to protect them. That, by the way, may be why the animals were included in this fate, because many of the Egyptian gods were represented as various animals. So the Lord was making it crystal clear that even these animals — or more specifically, the gods represented by them — couldn't protect them from the real God.
The Lord continues in verse 13: "The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt." The blood is a sign of salvation for the Israelites, but notice that it was not just the Egyptians who were subject to God's wrath and deserved his punishment. God does not say that the Israelites were exempt from judgment just because they were Israelites, or because they lived better lives than the Egyptians. No, the Israelites themselves were under God's wrath, and so they needed to be protected. If they would be saved, it would not be because God's justice had no claim against them; it would be because when God saw the blood on the doorframes, the blood of the sacrificial substitute, he would in grace pass over that house as he judged. Spread upon the doorframes, the blood of the lamb symbolically covered those within whose own blood rightfully should have been shed in penalty for their sins.
In verses 8 to 11, the Lord specifies still more about this meal, and each detail points us to the salvation that God was giving his people through the death of the Passover lamb. In verse 8 he tells Moses: "That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast." The bitter herbs mentioned here were to recall the bitterness of Israel's slavery (see Ex. 1:14), but their bitterness would be overwhelmed by the sweet taste of the lamb! Look also at the reference there to the bread made without yeast. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul understands this as an image meaning "without sin," and he calls the church to live up to that purity.
Then, in Exodus 12:9, some very specific instruction is given, which many have wondered about: "Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire — head, legs and inner parts." Why would the Lord give such instruction? Well, perhaps eating raw meat was prohibited here in contradistinction to some pagan festivals with sacrificial meat eaten raw, including with the blood. God did not want his people to think that he was giving them magical powers of the slain victim somehow; nothing like this was going on with this sacrifice. But even more importantly, he was teaching them about some spiritual realities such as the connection of sin and death, and preparing them for the planned Messiah, who would come, who would be slain as a substitute for them. Thus the Israelites wouldn't have before them on their festal table a stew made of unrecognizable meats, but rather a whole lamb — an uncomfortable reminder that they as a community were dependent on another being slain in their stead.
In verse 11, the Israelites are instructed to eat in a hurry and with trembling, with alarm at all that was going on and perhaps also in anticipation. This was the night of their deliverance, their liberation, their redemption, their salvation! Passover is the oldest of the Jewish festivals. It is their founding festival, their July 4th, and it is fixed as firmly in the Old Testament mind as anything could be. And what is at the very center of that festival? The lamb without defect that is slain as their substitute.
So did God intend the Passover lamb as a preview of Christ? Yes! The apostle Paul could not be clearer than in 1 Corinthians 5:7–8: "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed." Christ is the only-begotten Son of God, and the seed of Abraham, and also the Passover lamb.
You and I need deliverance from bondage to sin and from the fatal judgment of God, and that deliverance will come only through the blood of the firstborn lamb without blemish. Just as the Passover lamb was a substitute for sinners, so too is the Lamb of God. You see, all this was done for Israel so that they — and we — would see and know that God's people would be saved by a substitute. That's what God is teaching his people here as he instructs Moses about the Passover.
Do you see what is going on here? Deep in the story of the Bible we see that while the Israelites were just as subject to God's wrath and judgment as the Egyptians, the lamb became a substitute for them, and the application of its blood became the only way of their salvation. While there may be no explicit mention of the lamb bearing the sins of many, that is implicit in the lamb bearing the punishment for the Israelites' sins, and in those who are marked by the lamb's blood being delivered from the penalty they justly deserved. In the death of the Passover lamb, therefore, God was laying down part of the most basic vocabulary by which we were later to understand the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Messiah.
In Exodus 12:14–20, the Lord instructs Moses about the Feast of Unleavened Bread, by which the Israelites were to remember the results of the substitute. They are to memorialize forever the deliverance that God is about to perform for them in the exodus.
Now, Christian, what does this remind you of as you're seeing this memorial meal here? Yes, the Last Supper. In fact, remember that Jesus' sacrifice was made during the Passover festival in Jerusalem. That was no mere coincidence; it happened at that time for a reason. Just as the Passover meal was to aid the memory, so is the Lord's Supper. In remembering what God has done for us, we come to believe in what he has promised he will do for us! That's what the Lord is making sure here his people will do.
That is also why, in verse 15, the person who does something as insignificant (we might think) as eating leavened bread during these days is treated so severely — he must be cut off from Israel. Not to keep this festival is to begin to forget the Lord's deliverance of his people, and that is to lead them ultimately to stop worshiping the Lord. To forget what the Lord has done is a kind of blasphemy, a denial of God in his goodness. That's why the punishments for violating the feast were so severe. The Lord was making sure that his people would always remember this night when they were delivered from their bondage immediately by the power of God.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "It Is Well"
Copyright © 2010 Mark Dever and Thomas Michael Lawrence.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. The Passover: Exodus 12,
2. The Day of Atonement: Leviticus 16,
3. Crushed for Our Iniquities: Isaiah 52:13–53:12,
4. Ransom for Many: Mark 10:45,
5. Forsaken: Mark 15:33–34,
6. To Save the World: John 3:14–18,
7. Better That One Man Die: John 11:47–52,
8. Propitiation: Romans 3:21–26,
9. Delivered Over to Death for Our Sins: Romans 4:25,
10. Justified by His Blood: Romans 5:8–10,
11. Condemned Sin: Romans 8:1–4,
12. Becoming a Curse for Us: Galatians 3:10–13,
13. Bore Our Sins in His Body on the Tree: 1 Peter 2:21–25,
14. Christ Died for Sins: 1 Peter 3:18,
What People are Saying About This
“Theological and devotional, expositional and inspirational: these are four words that well capture this excellent work on the doctrine of penal substitution. Thank you, Mark and Michael, for this gift to the church of the Lord Jesus. Read it and be instructed. Read it and be blessed.”
Daniel L. Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Dever and Lawrence remind us that at the heart of Christianity is Christ, and the heart of Christ's ministry is the cross, and the heart of the cross is penal substitution. Nor is penal substitution limited to part of the canon. Both in the OT and the NT forgiveness of sins comes only through substitution. The OT anticipates the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, the Gospels relate the story of his sacrifice, and the Epistles explicate what Christ has accomplished for his people. What a joy to have the truth of Christ’s work for us set forth in sermons, for we see clearly that Christ’s atoning work is no abstraction. Dever and Lawrence in these well-crafted sermons both instruct us in God’s Word and apply it powerfully to the lives of both believers and unbelievers.”
Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Dever and Lawrence remind you of the supreme splendor of the cross. With homiletical wisdom, exegetical skill, and pastoral zeal, they will draw your mind’s attention and heart’s affection to the majesty of Christ in the atonement. In the process, you will not only be exposed to exemplary sermons on this extremely important doctrine, but you will also be overwhelmed by the breathtaking glory of the one who has satisfied the wrath of God by substituting himself in our place. All praise be to God for this indescribably wonderful reality and all thanks be to him for this immensely helpful book.”
David Platt, Pastor-Teacher, McLean Bible Church; author,Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
“In many churches, the cross is sung more forcefully than it is preached. Some of the most moving and memory-shaping hymns and songs of the faith are also the bloodiest, those that remind us that we were purchased with blood. Sadly, for many, the power of the atonement seems simply to be lyrics, left unconsidered for most of life. This book, by faithful preachers Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence, calls us to preach and teach and pray the curse-absorbing substitutionary atonement as emphatically as we sing it. As you see the glory of Christ crucified in these sermons, you will want to sing, and to preach, and to praise the Messiah who stood in our place on Skull Hill.”
Russell D. Moore, President, The Ethics& Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
“We need a clarion call to bring us back to the hard-won doctrines that the Reformers died to establish. Dever and Lawrence have masterfully traced the thread of one of the most significant of these truths through the Old and New Testaments. They argue that the sacrificial atonement is not merely an image, theory, or perspective; it is the very foundation of how God brought about salvation. To comprehend the gospel fully, we must understand this work of Christ. It is Well should be required reading for every pastor and will deepen any Christian’s awareness of Christ’s work on the cross. I encourage you to read and reread this book and cling tightly to what it says.”
Dennis Newkirk, Senior Pastor, Henderson Hills Baptist Church, Edmond, Oklahoma
“Dever and Lawrence take a topic that is intimidating to manysubstitutionary atonementand make it practical to both the scholar and the common man. Rich in exposition and application, they point us to God’s sacrifice for us in Jesus, and why, because of it, we can never be the same.”
Matt Carter,Pastor of Preaching, The Austin Stone Community Church, Austin, Texas; coauthor,The Real Win
“In a day when questions about retributive justice and penal substitution are being raised within evangelicalism, Dever and Lawrence serve us well by leading us to meditate upon the texts of the Old and New Testaments, which have shaped the church’s understanding of the atonement. They remind us that though the Bible uses various images to help us understand the work of Christ on the cross, penal substitution is the reality upon which all other images of the atonement stand. Yet this book is no mere apologetic; it is a welcome exhortation to make the cross of Christ central to all of life. I pray that the meditations contained herein will be widely read and would move Christ’s church once again to know nothing among us except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Juan R. Sanchez, Senior Pastor, High Pointe Baptist Church, Austin, Texas; Cofounder and President, Coalición; author, Seven Dangers Facing Your Church and 1 Peter for You
“This book is brimming with insights into the text as well as with clear and direct application. A refreshing contrast to the great number of low-calorie atonement books on the market.”
Simon Gathercole, Reader in New Testament Studies, University of Cambridge
“The theological glue that holds the gospel facts together is the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. Yet no concept is more unique and audacious to the Christian faith than that of a crucified Messiah and Savior. Regrettably, for too long this has been the subject of academia more than the church, until now. Through fourteen expositions that cover redemptive history, Dever and Lawrence have provided an extensive, simple, and practical guide to grasping this subject without compromising its complexity. This study is more than important to understand; it is imperative. Few books have fueled my worship of the Savior like this one. Read it and expect to find yourself on your knees in wonder at the gospel.”
Rick Holland,Senior Pastor, Mission Road Bible Church, Prairie Village, Kansas
“Like the sound of a trumpet resonating from castle walls, so has the call to worship sounded forth from the local church of Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence and their expositions on the atonement. This work is sure to humble the reader in the reality of the work of Christ on behalf of sinners and liberate the forgiven with the promise that ‘it is finished.’”
Eric Bancroft, Senior Pastor, Castleview Baptist Church, Indianapolis, Indiana