Friday, April 10, 2009

In my place condemned he stood

An Easter message on 1 Peter 3:18

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ lie at the heart of the Christian gospel. Everything centres around these central facts. Peter has been addressing the subject of Christians suffering for their faith, 1 Peter 3:14, 17. Now he relates our suffering for Christ to Christ’s suffering for us. If we sometimes have to suffer for doing good, then consider Christ who “suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust”. Here in this verse we have another one of those “Gospel soundbites” – a very brief and full statement of the truth that matters most.

I. Christ suffered for sins

We will never understand the suffering of Christ unless we grasp why he had to suffer – for sins. His death on the cross was a sin offering, Lev 4:2-3, Isaiah 53:10. What it is that makes sin so serious that nothing less than the suffering of Christ could save us? One of the early Archbishops of Canterbury was a man by the name of Anselm. He wrote a book called ‘Why did God become man?’ It was in the form of a dialogue between Anselm himself and a man called Boso. Anselm explained that Christ had to die to satisfy the honour of an offended God. Boso objected, “But that is far too harsh – did Christ really have to die so that we might be forgiven?” Anselm responded, “You have not yet appreciated the seriousness of sin.”

Sin is an offence to the infinite majesty of God. Sin detracts from his glory, Romans 3:23. Sin therefore deserves God’s terrible wrath and punishment. Some people have a problem with the eternal punishment of the wicked, but they have not grasped that when we sin against an infinite person, then we deserve infinite, unending punishment. When we sin, we break God’s law and defy him to his face. We refuse to acknowledge his sovereignty. We ungratefully despise his goodness and love. God will deal with sin justly. He would not be God if he simply ignored the problem and swept it under the carpet. Because God is holy love, he must deal with sin in a way that is right, whether in punishment or mercy.

Christ suffered for sins. That is why his suffering was so terrible. Films like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ concentrate on Christ’s physical suffering. We should not minimise that. He suffered severe flogging. A crown of thorns was thrust upon his brow. He was nailed to a cross. He endured the most intense physical agony. But we have only looked at the surface of things if we focus on Christ’s physical sufferings. Earlier Peter wrote that Jesus “bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). That signified he was under God’s curse. (Galatians 3:13). Jesus suffered the punishment due to our sin. Christ suffered the God-forsakenness of a sin-condemned man. At the cross there was no reassuring word from the Father, “This is my beloved Son I whom I am well pleased”. There was only in impenetrable darkness of Calvary. Tradition tells us that Peter helped Mark write his Gospel. The Evangelist was careful to record the strange and mystifying words of Jesus upon the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). That is what Peter means by “Christ suffered for sins”. That is how seriously God takes sin. When his Son was made sin for us, he forsook him.

Now Christ endured his sufferings voluntarily. He gave himself to the suffering and forsakenness of the cross. As Rabbi Duncan put it, “Here was damnation and damnation taken lovingly.” His suffering was no futile gesture. Peter points us to the finality of Christ’s suffering for sin. He suffered “once”. The Epistle to the Hebrews repeatedly draws attention to this, 7:27, 9:28. Before Jesus died, he cried “Finished!” And it was finished. The work of redemption was accomplished because Christ had suffered for us once and for all.

We need therefore look no further than the cross for full and free forgiveness of all our sin. They have been punished in Christ and God is satisfied with the finished work of his beloved Son. Go to him therefore for fresh forgiveness and cleansing from sin. And if you are called to suffer for Christ’s sake then remember that whatever men may throw at you, they can never plunge you into hell. Christ suffered the torments of hell on the cross that you might not have to.

II. Christ suffered as a substitute: the just for the unjust

Christ did not die on the cross for his own sins. He suffered the “just for the unjust”. But where is the justice in that? I have heard of cases where drivers with 9 points on their licence have been caught by a speed camera. They don’t want to be banned from driving so they persuade a friend with a clean licence to say that they were driving the vehicle. The law views such actions very dimly. If caught, both parties may be had up for perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice. The guilty man who broke the speed limit deserves his fine and driving ban, not his innocent friend. The very law of God demands that justice be done – Deut 25:1. So, how come Christ died as a substitute, suffering as the just for the unjust? If the speed-camera scenario is dodgy justice, then what of the cross?

The difference is Christ did not suffer for his friends in a private capacity, in an attempt to thwart God’s justice. We have to bear in mind the doctrine of the believers’ union with Christ. Why are we sinners? Because Adam sinned. We share in his guilt, Romans 5:12. Adam was the representative head of the human race. His actions therefore affect us all. Christ is the representative head of God’s new humanity. He died for the sins of those whom the Father had given him in eternity. Yes, they were unjust sinners, but Christ had come to act as their substitute. He died in the place of those who were united to him in God’s eternal purpose, John 17:2, 4. Those who say that the idea of substitutionary atonement a travesty of justice ignore the plain teaching of Scripture and have failed to take into account the believer’s union with Christ.

Christ suffered as a substitute, the just for the unjust. And thank God he did, because unless the just and holy Saviour died in my place, there would be no hope for lost sinners like us. Will you join this guilty sinner in saying, “In my place condemned he stood, Hallelujah what a Saviour!”?

III. Christ suffered for a purpose: that he might bring us to God

Someone once asked Noel Coward if he had ever spoken to God. He replied, “We have never been properly introduced”. The cross is our introduction into God’s presence. Through the cross, Jesus takes us by the hand and brings us to the Father. We can now draw near to him. Fellowship has been restored, the way of access opened. We can have communion and fellowship with God in prayer, Ephesians 2:18. We can offer him our worship and service. Let us then make much of the blood-bought privilege drawing near to God in Christ.

The Saviour will ultimately bring us to God in the glory, Hebrews 2:10. He will do so “having been put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). We have seen that Christ was put to death in the flesh when he suffered and died on the cross. But that was not the end of the story. He was made alive “in the spirit”. That is a reference to Jesus’ mighty resurrection from the dead. He now he has what Paul calls a “spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44-46). Christ is no longer “in the flesh”, subject to weakness and suffering. His bodily life exists in the life-transforming power of the Spirit.

Because Christ rose again, we too have the hope of resurrection life, 1 Peter 1:3. We shall be made partakers of his glory (1 Peter 5:1). Christ will bring us to God as resurrected and glorified human beings. Jesus did not die for us and rise again simply to “save our souls”. He will also raise up our bodies that they might be made like his glorious body. Isn’t that just amazing? The resurrection of Jesus is the reason for the hope that is in us in a hopeless and dying world. Do you share this living hope through Christ who suffered for sins and was made alive in the spirit? Are you trusting in him to bring you to glory and to God?

Our God is the end of the journey,
His pleasant and glorious domain:
For there are the children of mercy,
Who praise him for Calvary’s pain.
(William Vernon Higham)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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in his serve