These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.
This is about the self-substitution of God. How can the holy love of God come to terms with the unholy lovelessness of sinful man? The problem is not outside of God; it is within his own being. How can he express at the same time his holiness and judgment and his love and pardon? Only by providing a divine substitute for the sinner, so that the substitute would receive the judgment and the sinner would receive the pardon.
Sacrifice in the Old Testament: Paul tells us the Christ gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2), gave himself (Galatians 1:4), or in Hebrews 9:14, Christ offered himself. Jesus died for sins (Romans 8:3, 1 Peter 3:18). In our passage today, we see that sacrifice in the OT was just a shadow of what was to come.
Sacrifices were offered for several reasons: they were associated with penitence, celebration, national need, covenant renewal, family festivity and personal consecration. Regarding sacrifice we find them to signify belonging to God, and also alienation from God because of sin and guilt.
The notion of substitution means that one person takes the place of another, in order to bear his pain and to save him from it. Moses stepped in to save the Hebrews (Exodus 32:32), Paul would have stepped in for his people (Romans 9:1-4), Abraham was going to sacrifice his son but was provided a substitute (Genesis 22:13).
In a sacrifice the worshipper brought the animal, put hands on it and killed it. The priest applied the blood, burnt some of the flesh, and arranged to have the rest eaten. The point was identification and the hands were a symbolic transference of their sin. The shedding and sprinkling of blood was vital for atonement, and eating of blood was prohibited (Leviticus 17:11).
- Blood symbolized life (Genesis 9:4, Deuteronomy 12:23)
- Blood makes atonement, the reason is the repetition of the word life (life was given for life, the life of the innocent for the life of the guilt).
- Blood was given by God for this atoning purpose: the sacrificial system was God-made, not man-made.
Two verses we need to look at: without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22) and, it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). While Old Testament sacrifices were shadows, the substance was always Christ. For a substitute to be effective, it must prove to be an appropriate equivalent. Animals are not equal with humans, humans are not equal with God (Matthew 12:12, 1 Peter 1:19).
Passover and Sin Bearing: Passover was the beginning of Israel’s national identity, and it was here the New Testament identifies the death of Christ as the fulfillment of the Passover (the new and redeemed community and the new exodus from sin). God provided self-disclosure of himself:
- Yahweh revealed himself as the Judge (the background to the final plague).
- Yahweh revealed himself as the Redeemer (blood is applied to the door and they must take shelter under it).
- Yahweh revealed himself as Israel’s covenant God (he redeemed them to be his own people).
For us, the message is also clear:
- The Judge and Savior are the same person (it was God who passed through Egypt to judge the firstborn, who passed over the Israelite homes to protect them).
- Salvation was (and is) by substitution (only the firstborn males who were spared were in whose families a firstborn lamb had died instead).
- The lamb’s blood had to be sprinkled after it had been shed (there had to be individual appropriation of the divine protection).
- Each family rescued by God was thereby purchased for God.
What does it mean to bear sin? Jesus bore our sins (1 Peter 2:4) and was once offered to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9:28). It means to bear sin’s penalty.
The Scapegoat (Leviticus 16:5-28): One goat gets killed and the blood is sprinkled in the usual way, while the priest lays his hands on the living goat’s head and confesses the sin and rebellion of the people. The living goat is then driven into the desert.
Do not make the mistake of driving a wedge between the two goats because the two together are described as the sin offering (Leviticus 16:5). Each embodied a different aspect of the same sacrifice, one exhibiting the means and the other exhibiting the results of the atonement.
Jesus death and two sin-bearing statements:
- He died to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
- He died to pour out his blood for many (Mark 14:24, Isaiah 53:12).
Who is the substitute? Yes, it was Jesus, but was he just a man? If so, how could a human being stand in for another human being? Was he then simply God appearing to be a man? If so, how could he represent humankind? How could he (God) have died? Neither God alone nor man alone, but the unique and only God-Man was a suitable substitute, uniquely qualified to mediate between holy God and sinful man.
The possibility of a substitute rests upon the identity of the substitute. The essence, nature and identity of the Christ had been the subject of many heresies and controversies.
God was in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19): the righteous loving Father humbled himself to become, in and through his holy Son, flesh, sin and curse for us, in order to redeem us without compromising his own character. Make this personal.
The doctrine of substitution not only affirms a fact (that God was in Christ substituting himself for us) but it’s necessary (there is no other way by which God’s holy love could be satisfied and rebellious humans could be saved). Therefore, we all stand before the cross, as Adam, embarrassed at our nakedness attempting self-justification, wearing filthy rags. Jesus wore the rags and clothed us with righteousness.