Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Man of Sorrows

Recently I read a section of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology to my wife. I read from chapter twenty-seven – The Atonement.

The more I read the more I felt deep emotions of sorrow. Sorrow over my sinfulness and sorrow for over what my sin brought upon Jesus - sorrow over what my Lord Jesus willingly endured for me.

As I read and contemplated my Lord’s cross-bearing in my place, I was so overcome with this strong sense of sorrow that I began to weep bitter tears. It was difficult to read each sentence as I fought back the painful tears. But out of those bitter tears, in the morning, came a greater sense of gratitude, joy, and worship of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All praise to Him who reigns on high! SDG!

Below is the excerpt from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (pages 570-577) that I read to my wife. Christian, slow down, take some quiet time today and think deeply about what your Lord and Savior has borne for you. I pray that you too will be overcome with deep sorrow over your sin and the sufferings of your cross-bearing Savior who died in your place. I pray that the result will be that you would have a greater sense of gratitude, joy, and worship of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Nature of the Atonement

In this section we consider two aspects of Christ’s work: (1) Christ’s obedience for us, in which he obeyed the requirements of the law in our place and was perfectly obedient to the will of God the Father as our representative, and (2) Christ’s sufferings for us, in which he took the penalty due for our sins and as a result died for our sins.

It is important to notice that in both of these categories the primary emphasis and the primary influence of Christ’s work of redemption is not on us, but on God the Father. Jesus obeyed the Father in our place and perfectly met the demands of the law. And he suffered in our place, receiving in himself the penalty that God the Father would have visited upon us. In both cases, the atonement is viewed as objective; that is, something that has primary influence directly on God himself. Only secondarily does it have application to us, and this is only because there was a definite event in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son that secured our salvation.

1. Christ’s Obedience for Us (Sometimes Called His “Active Obedience”). If Christ had only earned forgiveness for sins for us, then we would not merit heaven. Out guilt would have been removed, but we would simply be in the position of Adam and Eve before they had done anything good or bad and before they had passed a time of probation successfully. To be established in righteousness forever and to have their fellowship with God made sure forever, Adam and Eve had to obey God perfectly over a period of time. Then God would have looked on their faithful obedience with pleasure and delight, and they would have lived with him in fellowship forever.

For this reason, Christ had to live a life of perfect obedience to God in order to earn righteousness for us. He had to obey the law for his whole life on our behalf so that the positive merits of his perfect obedience would be counted for us. Sometimes this is called Christ’s “active obedience,” while the suffering and dying for our sins is called his “passive obedience.” Paul says his goal is that he may be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of [his] own, based on the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9). It is not just moral neutrality that Paul knows he needs from Christ (that is, a clean slate with sins forgiven), but a positive moral righteousness. And he know that that cannot come from himself, but must come thought faith in Christ. Similarly, Paul says that Christ has been made “our righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30). And he quite explicitly says, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).

2. Christ’s Sufferings for Us (Sometimes Called His “Passive Obedience”). In addition to obeying the law perfectly for his whole life on our behalf, Christ also took on himself the sufferings necessary to pay the penalty for our sins.

a. Suffering for His Whole Life: In a broad sense the penalty Christ bore in paying for our sins was suffering in both his body and soul throughout his life. Though Christ’s sufferings culminated in his death on the cross (see below), his whole life in a fallen world involved suffering. For example, Jesus endured tremendous suffering during the temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11), when he was assaulted for forty days by the attacks of Satan. He also suffered in growing to maturity, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). He knew suffering in the intense opposition he faced from Jewish leaders throughout much of his earthly ministry (Heb. 12:3-4). We may suppose too that he experienced suffering and grief at the death of his earthly father, and certainly he experienced grief at the death of his close friend Lazarus (John 11:35). In predicting the coming of the Messiah, Isaiah said he would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).

b. The Pain of the Cross: The sufferings of Jesus intensified as he drew near to the cross. He told his disciples of something of the agony he was going through when he said, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38). It was especially on the cross that Jesus’ sufferings for us reached their climax, for it was there that he bore the penalty for our sin and died in our place. Scripture teaches us that there were four different aspects of the pain that Jesus experienced:

(1) Physical Pain and Death

We do not need to hold that Jesus suffered more physical pain than any human being has ever suffered, for the Bible nowhere makes such a claim. But we still must not forget that death by crucifixion was one of the most horrible forms of execution ever devised by man.

Many readers of the Gospels in the ancient world would have witnessed crucifixions and thus would have had a painfully vivid mental picture upon reading the simple words “And they crucified him” (Mark 15:24). A criminal who was crucified was essentially forced to inflict upon himself a very slow death by suffocation. When the criminal’s arm’s were outstretched and fastened by nails to the cross, he had to support most of the weight of his body with his arms. The chest cavity would be pulled upward and outward, making it difficult to exhale in order to be able to draw a fresh breath. But when the victim’s longing for oxygen became unbearable, he would have to push himself up with his feet, thus giving more natural support to the weight of his body, releasing some of the weight from his arms, and enabling his chest cavity to contract more normally. By pushing himself upward in this way the criminal could fend off suffocation, but it was extremely painful because it required putting the body’s weight on the nails holding the feet, and bending the elbows and pulling upward on the nails driven through the wrists. The criminal’s back, which had been torn open repeatedly by a previous flogging, would scrape against the wooden cross with each breath. Thus Seneca (first century A.D.) spoke of a crucified man “drawing the breath of life amid long-drawn-out agony” (Epistle 101, to Lucilius, section 14).

A physician writing in the Journal for the American Medical Association in 1986 explained the pain that would have been experienced in death by crucifixion:
Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows…. However, this maneuver would place the entire weight of the body on the tarsals and would produce searing pain. Furthermore, flexion of the elbows would cause rotation of the writs about the iron nails and cause fiery pain along the damaged median nerves…. Muscle cramps and paresthesias of the outstretched and uplifted arms would add to the discomfort. As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring and lead eventually to asphyxia.
In some cases, crucified men would survive for several days, nearly suffocating but not quite dying. This was why the executioners would sometimes break the legs of a criminal, so that death would come quickly, as we see in John 19:31-33.

Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the sabbath (for that sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.
(2) The Pain of Bearing Sin

More awful than the pain of physical suffering that Jesus endured was the psychological pain of bearing the guilt for our sin. In our own experience as Christians we know something of the anguish we feel when we know we have sinned. The weight of guilt is heavy on our hearts, and there is a bitter sense of separation from all that is right in the universe, an awareness of something that in a very deep sense ought not to be. In fact, the more we grow in holiness as God’s children, the more intensely we feel this instinctive revulsion against evil.

Now Jesus was perfectly holy. He hated sin with his entire being. The thought of evil, of sin, contradicted everything in his character. Far more than we do, Jesus instinctively rebelled against evil. Yet in obedience to the Father, and out of love for us, Jesus took on himself all the sins of those who would someday be saved. Taking on himself all the evil against which his soul rebelled created deep revulsion in the center of his being. All that he hated most deeply was poured out fully upon him.

Scripture frequently says that our sins were put on Christ: “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6), and “He bore the sin of many” (Isa. 53:12). John the Baptist calls Jesus “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Paul declares that God made Christ “to be sin” (2 Cor. 5:21) and that Christ became “a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). The author of Hebrews says that Christ was “offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28). And Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).

The passage from 2 Corinthians quoted above, together with the verses from Isaiah, indicate that it was God the Father who put our sins on Christ. How could that be? In the same way in which Adam’s sins were imputed to us, so God imputed our sins to Christ; that is, he thought of them as belonging to Christ, and, since God is the ultimate judge and definer of what really is in the universe, when God thought of our sins as belonging to Christ then in fact they actually did belong to Christ. This does not mean that God thought that Christ had himself committed the sins, (that is, the liability to punishment) was thought of by God as belonging to Christ rather than to us.

Some have objected that it was not fair for God to do this, to transfer the guilt of sin from us to an innocent person, Christ. Yet we must remember that Christ voluntarily took on himself the guilt for our sins, so this objection loses much of its force. Moreover, God himself (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is the ultimate standard of what is just and fair in the universe, and he decreed that the atonement would take place in this way, and that it did in fact satisfy the demands of his own righteousness and justice.

(3) Abandonment

The physical pain of crucifixion and the pain of taking on himself the absolute evil of our sins were aggravated by the fact that Jesus faced this pain alone. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, he confided something of his agony to them: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch” (Mark 26:56).

Here also there is a very faint analogy in our experience, for we cannot live long without tasting the inward ache of rejection, whether it be rejection by a close friend, by a parent or child, or by a wife or husband. Yet in all those cases there is at least a sense that we could have done something differently, that at least in small part we may be at fault. It was not so with Jesus and the disciples, for, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). He had done nothing but love them; in return, they all abandoned him.

But far worse than desertion by even the closest of human friends was the fact that Jesus was deprived of the closeness to the Father that had been the deepest joy of his heart for all his earthy life. When Jesus cried, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), he showed that he was finally cut off from the sweet fellowship with his heavenly Father that had been the unfailing source of his inward strength and the element of greatest joy in a life filled with sorrow. As Jesus bore our sins on the cross, he was abandoned by his heavenly Father, who is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Hab. 1:13). He faced the weight of the guilt of millions of sins alone.

(4) Bearing the Wrath of God

Yet more difficult than these three previous aspects of Jesus’ pain was the pain of bearing the wrath of God upon himself. As Jesus bore the guilt of our sins alone, God the Father, the mighty Creator, the Lord of the universe, poured out on Jesus the fury of his wrath: Jesus became the object of the intense hatred of sin and vengeance against sin which God had patiently stored up since the beginning of the world.

Romans 3:23 tells us that God put forward Christ as a “propitiation” (NASB) a word that means “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath to favor.” Paul tells us that “That this was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25-26). God had not simply forgiven sin and forgotten about the punishment in generations past. He had forgiven sins and stored up his righteous anger against those sins. But at the cross the fury of all that stored-up wrath against sin was unleashed against God’s own Son.

Many theologians outside the evangelical world have strongly objected to the idea that Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin. Their basic assumption is that since God is a God of love, it would be inconsistent with his character to show wrath against the human beings he has created and for whom he is a loving Father. But evangelical scholars have convincingly argued that the idea of the wrath of God is solidly rooted in both the Old and New Testaments: “the whole of the argument of the opening part of Romans is that all men, Gentiles and Jews alike, are sinners, and that they come under the wrath and the condemnation of God.”

Three other crucial passages in the New Testament refer to Jesus’ death as a “propitiation”: Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; and 4:10. The Greek terms (the verb hilaskomai, “to make propitiation” and the noun hilasmos, “a sacrifice of propitiation”) used in these passages have the sense of “a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God – and thereby makes God propitious (or favorable) toward us.” This is the consistent meaning of these words outside of the Bible where they were well understood in reference to pagan Greek religions. These verses simply mean that Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin.

It is important to insist on this fact, because it is the heart of the doctrine of the atonement. It means that there is an eternal, unchangeable requirement in the holiness and justice of God that sin be paid for. Furthermore, before the atonement ever could have an effect on our subjective consciousness, it first had an effect on God and his relation to the sinners he planned to redeem. Apart from this central truth, the death of Christ really cannot be adequately understood.

Although we must be cautious in suggesting any analogies to the experience Christ went through (for his experience was and always will be without precedent or comparison), nonetheless, all our understanding of Jesus’ suffering comes in some sense by way of analogous experiences in our life – for that is how God teaches us in Scripture. Once again our human experience provides a very faint analogy that helps us understand what it means to bear the wrath of God. Perhaps as children we have faced the wrath of a human father when we have done wrong, or perhaps as adults we have known the anger of an employer because of a mistake we have made. We are inwardly shaken, disturbed by the crashing of another personality, filled with displeasure, into our very selves, and we tremble. We can hardly imagine the personal disintegration that would threaten if the outpouring of wrath came not from some finite human being but from Almighty God. If even the presence of God when he does not manifest wrath arouses fear and trembling in people (cf. Heb. 12:21, 28-29), how terrible it must be to face the presence of a wrathful God (Heb. 10:31).

With this in mind, we are now better able to understand Jesus’ cry of desolation, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46b). The question does not mean, “Why have you left me forever?” for Jesus knew that he was leaving the world, that he was going to the Father (John 14:28; 16:10, 17). Jesus knew that he would rise again (John 2:19; Luke 18:33; Mark 9:31; et al.). It was “for the joy that was set before him” that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2). Jesus knew that he could still call God “my God.” This cry of desolation is not a cry of total despair. Furthermore, “Why have you forsaken me?” does not imply that Jesus wondered why he was dying. He had said, “The Son of man also cam not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus knew that he was dying for our sins.

Jesus’ cry is a quotation form Psalm 22:1, a psalm in which the psalmist asks why God is so far from helping him, why God delays in rescuing him:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest. (Ps. 22:1-2).
Yet the psalmist was eventually rescued by God, and his cry of desolation turned into a hymn of praise (vv.22-31). Jesus, who knew the words for Scripture as his own, knew well the context of Psalm 22. In quoting the psalm, he is quoting a cry of desolation that also has implicit in its context an unremitting faith in the God who will ultimately deliver him. Nevertheless, it remains a very real cry of anguish because the suffering has gone on so long and no release is in sight.

With this context for the quotation it is better to understand the question, “Why have you forsaken me?” as meaning, “Why have you forsaken me for so long?” This is the sense it has in Psalm 22. Jesus, in his human nature, knew he would have to bear our sins, to suffer and to die. But, in his human consciousness, he probably did not know how long this suffering would take. Yet to bear the guilt of millions of sins even for a moment would cause the greatest anguish of soul. To face the deep and furious wrath of an infinite God even for an instant would cause the most profound fear. But Jesus’ suffering was not over in a minute – or two – or ten. When would it end? Could there be yet more weight of sin? Yet more wrath of God? Hour after hour it went on – the dark weight of sin and the deep wrath of God poured over Jesus in wave after wave. Jesus at last cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why must suffering go on so long? Oh God, my God, will you ever bring it to an end?

Then at last Jesus knew his suffering was nearing completion. He knew he had consciously borne all the wrath of the Father against our sins, for God’s anger had abated and the awful heaviness of sin was being removed. He knew that all that remained was to yield up his spirit to his heavenly Father and die. With a shout of victory Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Then with a loud voice he once more cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). And then he voluntarily gave up the life that no one could take from him (John 10:17-18), and he died. As Isaiah had predicted, “he poured out his soul to death” and “bore the sin of many” (Isa. 53:12). God the Father saw “the fruit of the travail of his soul” and was “satisfied” (Isa. 53:11).

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine Wayne Grudem (Author)


1 comment:

  1. Praise God bro. For the glory of God keep studying and writing!