The Substitute: Pay-back or Pay-It-Forward?

January 18, 2014                                                      

Second Sabbath of Epiphany

Listen Here                                                                Watch Here (starts at 26:25)

As the writer of the gospel of John began his version of the story of Jesus, he opens his gospel with a story about John the Baptizer doing the work of informing the locals about the coming- and then arrived-Messiah, as “the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”  To people steeped in the culture of ritual animal sacrifice, they understood what John meant:  Jesus was to humanity in its entirety what a baby sheep was to one person or family–a substitute receiving the penalty of death that was rightly deserved by the human being who had committed the offense.

The doctrine of substitutionary atonement developed into one of the hallmarks of the Christian faith.  The idea is that a righteous God could not allow sinful humanity to be in his presence unless they were atoned for by the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ.  This understanding states that God’s wrath was satisfied and now he can handle atoned-for humanity being in his presence again.

In this sermon, I ask whether maybe we are mistaken over Who demanded the sacrifice and what that means for how we understand God and how we deal with our own guilt, shame and dysfunction.

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3 thoughts on “The Substitute: Pay-back or Pay-It-Forward?

  1. Have now listened to your sermon. I have a couple of points (sorry this is a big long, but I’m very passionate about the gospel):

    – Minor nitpick. John written a century after Jesus? How is this possible, since our earliest fragment, p52, is already found well under a century after Christ’s death?

    – You set up the background of substitutionary atonement by describing it (unfairly and inaccurately in my opinion): It is not a matter of us ‘paying God back’ – the OT, and especially the NT make that abundantly clear. Rather, in God’s plan, He provides and gives up the one thing most dear to Him – His only Son. From Genesis 22:14 comes a title of God: Yahweh-Yireh, ‘the LORD will provide (a sacrifice)’

    – You describe God as not being a God of vengeance and wrath, but the New Testament clearly contradicts this:

    God is storing up wrath against the wicked:
    “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will repay each person according to what they have done.”
    – Romans 2:5-6

    God will repay evil:
    “For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”
    – Hebrews 10:30

    He who is not in Jesus Christ is under judgement:
    “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
    – John 3:36

    Even the Lamb of God has wrath:
    “They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!”
    – Revelation 6:16

    I believe the reason you might protest against such a portrait of the eternal and holy God is that you have an inadequate view of the sinfulness of man. If someone rages against another innocent person who might have wronged him accidentally, we are incensed and see that person’s anger as unjust. But God is a good God who cannot abide wickedness, and the Bible is very clear that human beings are wicked from their birth:

    Every inclination of man is toward evil:
    “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
    – Genesis 6:5

    Man drinks down iniquity like it was water:
    “If God places no trust in his holy ones, if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes, how much less mortals, who are vile and corrupt, who drink up evil like water!”
    – Job 15:15-16

    Even our good deeds are tainted:
    “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
    – Isaiah 64:6

    Our problem begins at our birth:
    “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
    – Psalm 51:5

    It is with this portrait of the sinfulness of man against a good and loving God that we need to bring Jesus Christ into the picture. If Jesus Christ is not mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5) who saves us from the holy wrath of a good God (Romans 5:9), then we are left with something like Islam, where Allah is capricious – not nearly just enough, because He can overlook sin, and not nearly loving enough, because the love demonstrated in the Cross of Jesus Christ outshines anything else in this universe.

    Do you understand how great the problem of God justifying the wicked is? Proverbs 17:15 clearly states: “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.”

    We can easily understand this in our own culture. What if your entire family was murdered by someone at night and the murderer was eventually found out? Let’s imagine the judge pardoned him saying, ‘I am a merciful judge. I let you go.’ Why the whole town would be in an uproar. You would demand justice – and yet how can you deny this attribute to God? You say near the end of your sermon, ‘Let Jesus pay for what others did to you.’ Yet you forbid God this right! We sin primarily against God, our Creator, and not others.

    If we don’t emphasize our need of the Savior, and God’s holiness, we minimize the power of the cross of Jesus Christ. Remember that God HIMSELF sent His Son out of love for us to pay for all our crimes.
    Jesus Christ became our curse: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Galatians 3:13

    Jesus Christ drank the cup of wrath the Father gave Him: “So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” John 18:1

    Jesus Christ was bruised for our iniquities: “But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.” Isaiah 53:10

    Do you want your congregation to understand the depths of God’s love for His people? Don’t deny them the very foundation of the gospel – that we are justified and adopted into God’s family because Jesus became a curse for us!

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