Yesterday was the first day of what the Christian calendar calls “Holy Week”. Beginning with Palm Sunday which remembers Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. In the space of a week Jesus will experience exaltation at the gates of the city to despite and humiliation at the governor’s mansion. It all begins with Jesus humbly riding in on a donkey with people laying down palm branches on His path while saying “Hosanna! Baruch haba b’shem Adonai” which means “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The people of Jerusalem were excited to receive their king who was going to free them from the oppression of the Roman occupation. They had messed up beliefs about the Messiah and what He would accomplish. However, when it became clear that Jesus was not going to lead a rebellion against the Roman rule He quickly falls out of favor with the public and attracts a lot of negative attention from the Pharisees and Sadducees with His teachings about the Kingdom of God. The people assumed that Jesus would declare Himself king and restore Israel to its former greatness and usher in the Kingdom on earth. The Jews had always had a nationalistic view of the Messianic mission and it led them to assume that they were the only people the Messiah would come for. Assuming their righteous standing with God because of their chosen status with God. They were God’s chosen people from among the nations of the world so the Messiah would be on their team and save them from the other nations, not themselves as Jesus taught. Their national pride was one of the causes for their blindness to the real mission of Jesus. Jesus taught from the beginning that He would die in the place of sinners and referenced many Old Testament scriptures as proof of His lordship and mission.
We are all in the same position as the people of Jerusalem who were blind to their own personal need of a Messiah. The real problem was that we have sinned against a holy God and our sins deserve to be punished. The punishment for our sins is an eternity in hell. One sin against an eternal God requires an eternal punishment. Each one of us is steeped in sin from the moment we’re born and are completely incapable of doing anything righteous in the sight of God. But Jesus, being God, was sent from heaven to live a sinless life and die in the place of sinners so that He would be punished by God instead of us. God punished Jesus on the cross to the full extent deserved for every human who would be saved. Only an eternal soul like the one in Jesus could bear the eternal aspect of the wrath for sins. So for three hours God relentlessly poured out wrath upon wrath on Jesus in our place. Because of this substitution those who place their faith in Jesus are forgiven because there is no judgment left for them. On top of that, Jesus was raised from the dead and gave us the righteousness He achieved during His life so that we can have a righteous standing before God until the day we meet Him in the eternal afterlife.
It takes a miracle work of God to reveal this in our hearts and before that miracle we were among the crowds crying “Crucify him!” before Pilate. As C.J. Mahaney says, “Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us leading us to faith and worship, we must see it as something done by us, leading us to repentance. Only the man or the woman who is prepared to own his share in the guilt of the cross may claim his share in its grace.”
I pray that all of us this Holy Week would seek to go deeper into the mystery and wonder of the cross and that we would find that our Savior’s love goes deeper than we had ever imagined before! Seek out the Lord, acknowledge your sins, and find forgiveness and life at the foot of the cross and the empty grave.
2 Cor. 5:21 “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”
I spent some time on the internet yesterday watching parts of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and I had a very profound moment in my thoughts of Jesus and my sin. The Bible teaches us that Jesus was fully God and fully man on earth and that He managed to live without sin in every aspect of His life. I’ve always known that to be true but the full magnitude of that truth hit me while I was watching those clips. In particular, the scene where Jesus is carrying His cross on the way to Golgatha. Our Lord has already been beaten severely and has had a crown of thorns pressed onto His head. He is barely recognizable from the torture and is now forced to carry an immensely heavy piece of lumber for several hundred yards. All the while angry mobs follow Him and shout profanities at Him and try to get their hands on Him to strike Him. Jesus collapses under the weight of the cross several times and barely has the strength to get back on His feet. Here is where my moment came: so pervasive is the nature of sin and so desperately it tries to gain mastery over us that it penetrates every aspect of our lives. Not just our actions and deeds, but our thought as well. The success of the atonement depends on one crucial element: that Jesus be guilty of no sin Himself.
The concept of substitution is one man’s guilt-free life for another’s guilty life. I’m sure Satan was trying desperately to gain control over Jesus’ mind during that long walk to Golgatha, because if he did the redemptive mission of Jesus’ life would amount to nothing. All that needed to happen was for Jesus to think one unrighteous thought towards the angry mob or His torturers in malice, hatred, self-righteousness, or pride and the mission would have been a failure. There would have been no atonement for sins, no resurrection, no forgiveness of sins, and mankind would be forever lost and without hope for all eternity. Because if the Son of God had a single stain of sin on Him He would never be able to atone for anything and He Himself would be damned as well. But this reminds me that the power of sin is great and terrible, but the power of God is far greater than sin and it overcomes sin and Satan.
My own sin is constantly waging war against me and fighting to gain mastery over my soul (while I was writing this I got angry at my web browser and WordPress because every time it tried to save this post my computer froze up) and it follows me around wherever I go. But Jesus Christ conquered my sin on the cross because He lived with no sin. He was silent before His accusers like a lamb is silent before its shearers. 2 Cor. 5:21 says,
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him
Let your soul rejoice today in the knowledge that Jesus overcame your curse because He Himself was cursed by God in order that you might go free and come to know your Savior! His unfailing love for us sustained Him in His darkest moments before His death and now in light of all that His death has accomplished for us, let your most intimate love for Him carry you through your darkest moments and your happiest of days, through all your peaks and valleys!
I think I found a new favorite theologian quote. I was reading In My Place Condemned He Stood and read the quote by John Owen which goes “If He fulfilled not justice, I must; if He underwent not wrath, I must to eternity“. That hit me like a ton of bricks. To me, that sentence fully embodies what Christ’s mission on earth was and the reason He died. He didn’t die because He was guilty of a crime according to man, or because He was a filthy sinner. Christ was innocent and completely sinless and pure. Jesus was the only one who lived in compliance to God’s Law. The death He died, He died for me as my substitute.
Jesus willingly carried the cross for our sake
In IMPCHS JI Packer defines the word “substitutionary” as something done in the place of someone else that they had no power in themself to accomplish. The dictionary defines “substitute” as “a person or thing acting or serving in place of another”. Christ wasn’t my representative, He was my substitute. A representative is someone designated by those who need representation to act in their place. If Christ was my representative, I must have told Him to fix my sin problem. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The amazing thing about grace is that it seeks you out. I couldn’t have done anything to seek grace, it found me. Christ was indeed my substitute on the cross because I was in the crowd jeering and slandering Him while He was being nailed to the cross. Christ, as my substitute, underwent wrath so that I would not have to, and He fulfilled justice so I wouldn’t have to. Because if I had to do either of these things my future would hold nothing but condemnation. Praise God Father, Son, and Spirit for the substitutionary death He died to ransom my soul and those in the Church! Grace and Peace.