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The Cost of Our Redemption

March 30th, 2018

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. (Matt. 27:27-31 ESV)

Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Christ died a sacrificial death, His life for ours, as our substitution. In the Old Testament sacrifices the man offering the animal for his sins would lay his hands on the animal, identifying with it, and the action communicated that this animal was taking his place. In a similar way, we must ‘lay hands’ on Jesus to identify with Him for all to know, that we believe He died for us – that He died for me.

The Bible says that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:22). The death of Christ for our sins was necessary for our salvation. “He who knew no sin became sin for us that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ was “delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).

Yet, why the cross? Why did God choose such an ignoble, painful, suffering way for Christ to die? The sacrificial animals in the Old Testament had their lives taken, their blood shed, quickly – as close to painlessly as the culture and the time would permit. It would be unthinkable for a sacrificial lamb In the Old Testament to be nailed to a cross and left to hang in the heat of the day for hours until he died – even more unthinkable that it would be scourged, whipped and ridiculed and a crown of thorns crushed down on its brow.

There is no definitive answer given in scripture for this question, except to say that it was done according to the will of God –  “It pleased the LORD to bruise him” (Isa. 53:10), is the only answer we receive. But if I were to pose my own answer, the collection of my own thoughts and experiences and studies, the reason God chose the cross is that it pictures for us, like nothing else could, the cost of our redemption. Christ could have been killed with much less pain and His death would still be the payment for our sins, but the agony of the cross pictures for us the what it took for God to forgive us.

The physical suffering and the heart of holy God

The agony of the Son on the cross pictures the agony of God for sinners. There was physical suffering on the cross, but there was an even greater pain in the Godhead itself. For the one and only time in history God the Son became sin, and God the Father turned His back on Him, when Christ became the sin of the world. The Godhead was split – such a thing seems impossible, as if God was at war with Himself – and, I suppose, it would have been the type of conflict that would have destroyed all of creation were it not for the fact that there was complete agreement between them for the cross to happen.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  (Phil. 2:5-8 ESV)

Other scriptures and symbols

There were purposes in God choosing the cross that we can understand. I recommend an article on God.net: “Why Did God Choose the Cross?” We can see the striking demonstration of God’s love for us. We see also a parallel in scripture to Christ being lifted up like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14-15). We see the cross used as an example of discipleship, of complete surrender to Christ – we are to take up our cross daily to follow after Christ (Luke 9:23). The cross also revealed the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of humanity that both Jews and Gentiles were complicit in the public execution of Christ (Acts 2:23). And a public death, even one grotesquely humiliating and painful, was essential to verify Christ’s death, and thereby the miracle of His resurrection.

The cross commends God’s love to us

But I believe the heart of it all, in the mind of God, was to give us an unparalleled picture of His love for us. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The word in the original sunistemi means “commends” and not only “demonstrates.” The cross was a demonstration but more than just that. It was also and especially a recommendation for a God like our God, who loves like He loves.

Is it easy for God to forgive?

A university student Bible study I was leading years ago, when I was working with students, asked the question: “Is it easy for God to forgive sin?” It engendered very interesting discussions. The first response was, “Sure. God can forgive all the time.” But the more thoughtful answers went to the cross, and saw the length to which God went to offer forgiveness. We forgive usually on the basis that we are not perfect either, but God, who is perfect and completely holy, can only forgive on the basis that He Himself has made atonement for the sinner. The answer is that it is incredibly difficult for God to forgive – it took the death of Christ.

Look at the cross afresh and consider the pain that God endured for your sins to be forgiven. See also the great redemption to which this points. God is redeeming the world – not so that we might be better people, but so that we might become perfect in Him. And knowing the cost of His love for us, at least knowing in part, is what God uses to work true repentance into our lives and our hearts. He will only be satisfied when we are fully converted – in heart and mind.

Daily Devotions, Gospel of Matthew

To Love Jesus

March 28th, 2018

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Sometimes we are all like Adam, hiding in the bushes from God while trying to cover our nakedness with our own hands. An essential discipline of the Christian life is the discipline of loving Jesus, of trusting Him, of coming to Him daily in prayer and faith, of being willing and ready to come out of our apron of self-effort at redemption and stand as needy sinners in the presence of His redemptive love. Anything else – such as coming only to church involvement, coming only to some biblical principles, or coming to ideas of right and wrong – will fall short of what we need to do.

The Bible is incredibly clear on this and this is a principle we should never miss. But, we still often do. Read almost anywhere in the Scripture and it becomes plain that the type of faith that is engendered and taught and commanded is faith in God personally in the Old Testament and faith in Jesus Christ particularly in the New Testament. It was not mere morality or logic that delivered Israel from Egypt, but God. And the first duty of humanity is to love the Lord with all that is within us. The psalmist wrote, “His steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136), and if we remove that word “His” from our thinking then we are left with merely a sentimental optimism. Sadly, much of Christianity today has done that.

And Christ commanded His disciples to “follow me” (Luke 9:23), to “come to me” (Matt. 11:28), and to “believe in me” (John 14:1). There is no such thing, really, as “Christless Christianity,” though the devil would be glad if we tried to invent it. When Christ the person is removed, then everything falls apart. And there is no such thing as devotion to the Christian religion that is not characterised first and foremost by devotion to Christ, love to Christ, and obedience to Christ.

Oswald Chambers again this morning (March 28) expressed it beautifully:

Many of us are loyal to our notions of Jesus Christ, but how many of us are loyal to Him? Loyalty to Jesus means I have to step out where I do not see anything (cf. Matt. 14:29); loyalty to my notions means that I clear the ground first by my intelligence. Faith is not intelligent understanding, faith is deliberate commitment to a Person where I see no way.

Paul was converted not by the logic of Christ but by the personal call of Christ. He wrote: “And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20), and “for me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). Peter wrote: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).  There is no salvation without Christ, no flock without Him as the Shepherd, and no Christian life without following Jesus.

The measure of our Christian faith is not mere adherence to principles, not mere wisdom in circumstances, and not the mere doing of good deeds. The only proper measure is our love for Christ Jesus. This love for Him first and then for other through Him is the great mark of discipleship. It is only possible by receiving first His love for us and His love in us. Turn to Him in faith and you will find that the Spirit will enlarge love for Him in your heart.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12 ESV)

Daily Devotions, Gospel of Matthew