Concerning the Son

  • Author: Ray C. Stedman
Read the Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:20-21
2 Corinthians 5:20-21

20We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

New International Version
close

Father, we wonder at the self-disclosure of our great and mighty God. We pray for the ministry of the Spirit as we look at the theme centered upon the person of our Lord himself. Help us to realize that we are seek to understand the Lord of glory, Master of the universe, Savior of the world, who loved us and gave Himself for us that we might not perish. Help us to do so with reverence and clear understanding, taught of your Spirit. In Christ’s Name. Amen.

Somebody told me it was so cold this morning they couldn’t even get their wheelbarrow started. This would be a warm day in Montana, so I don’t feel sorry for you. I thought you might be interested in a new book I recommend to any who are interested in a popular survey of the whole realm of Christian theology. It’s a thick book written by my dear friend, Dr. James Boice, Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, speaker on the Bible Study Hour. He has done a good job of covering the whole field of theology in popular style. It isn’t technical, nor obtruse, nor dull. It’s a good presentation of Eschatology, Soteriology and all the other “ologies” that make up Theology. It is a single volume, published by InterVarsity Press. I can recommend it highly because Jim Boice has done me the honor of quoting me extensively (laughter) regarding Body Life in the church. The name is “Foundations of Christian Faith.”

The fourth Doctrinal Statement reads:

Concerning the Son

 “We believe that the Eternal Son entered the human race as the virgin-born son of Mary, was named Jesus, fulfilled Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah, was rejected by Jewish leaders, condemned by Pontius Pilate, crucified by the Romans, buried in a borrowed tomb, but on the third day arose bodily from the dead in accordance with the predictions of the Old Testament Scriptures.”

The PBC Doctrinal Statement of Faith

Obviously, that’s an attempt to gather a great deal of truth about our Lord. There are five major doctrines regarding Christ covered in that one brief statement. There are others not mentioned, but in the sixth paragraph we have a statement about the ascension of Jesus. He was not only resurrected from the dead, but ascended into heaven. That will be considered in our next study.

The first of the five major doctrines we will look at tonight is the Eternity of the Eternal Son. This will be followed by the Virgin Birth, fulfilled prophecies, the atoning work of Christ on the cross, rejection by the authorities, his crucifixion and burial, and finally, the resurrection.

I’m sure if you’ve read much of the Bible you have discovered that the figure of Christ dominates the Scriptures. He is as much in the Old Testament as he is in the New. When you begin to see all the sacrifices, the ritual, the tabernacle and temple, are all ways of picturing Christ, you will see how fully he fills the Old Testament as well as the New. The Old Testament believers were being taught about Christ. Jesus said something very remarkable to the Pharisees one day: “Your father Abraham saw my day, and was glad.” What did he mean, “saw my day”? Either by the Spirit interpreting the Scriptures, or by some inner revelation by the Spirit, Abraham saw the coming of Jesus. He knew God was sending some one. The remarkable thing is as you read the Old Testament you get a great sense that someone is coming. As you read it through you find constant rituals, sacrifices and ceremonies that seem to be meaningless as far as the applications to the individuals involved at the time. But they are all saying someone is coming. You will recall when John the Baptist introduced our Lord, his greeting was: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” All those sacrifices were fulfilled in the Lamb of God who “takes away the sin of the world.”

Read the Old Testament again, and you’ll see it is not only a book of unexplained sacrifices, but unfulfilled promises, and various references to someone. Moses said God will raise up a prophet like unto me and him shall the people hear. Samuel spoke of someone who was coming. Even Barak, the false prophet, spoke of a king who shall rise and Shiloh shall come. Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, speak in clear and lucid terms concerning his coming. Yet when you read through the Old Testament and close the book of Malachi, he has not yet arrived.

So the Old Testament is a book of unexplained sacrifices, unfulfilled prophecies, and more than that, you see throughout a great expression of longing for someone to meet people’s needs, forgive their sins, solve their problems, satisfy their emotional hungers and in every way fulfill all the desires of their hearts. This is expressed over and over again. “Behold, the desire of nations shall come,” Ezekiel said. Job cries out for a mediator, a daysman, someone to stand between him and God. There is this longing all through the Old Testament, so you see at the end of Malachi it is a book of unfulfilled longing.

But the first thing you see in the New Testament is “This is the book of the generations of Jesus Christ.” And immediately the New Testament begins to unfold the wonderful impact Jesus makes as he speaks to his disciples and crowds, and becomes the sensation of the nation. Immediately crowds followed him in great numbers, inescapably, because they sensed here was one who could meet the longing of their hearts. It was only as he began to speak about the cost of following him that the crowds began to dwindle. But at first there was a great popular upsurge of interest in Jesus. People left their work and their homes and went without food in the wilderness, to hear what he had to say. So the Scriptures are full of Jesus from beginning to end. He is the dominant figure of the Bible.

The first thing we look at here with regard to Jesus is his eternity as the Son. There is much confusion about this, and many people think Jesus became the Son of God when he was incarnated. (By the way, Incarnation is a term like Trinity that you will not find in the Bible, but it gathers up a great deal of teaching.) Incarnate means, to become flesh. John says that in his prologue to his gospel. (1:1) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then in the fourteenth verse: “The Word became (or was made) flesh.” There is the idea of the Incarnation.

Many think he became the Son of God either when he was born of Mary or made flesh in the Incarnation. Actually, the Scriptures teach he has always been the Son of God. Remember we saw as we studied the great truth of the Trinity that the three persons of the Godhead are intimately linked together eternally. It is always the Father, always the Son, and always the Spirit. This is seen in the passage often quoted at Christmastime, Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” The child must be born because that is his humanity. But the son is not born; he is given. This reflects the eternity of his sonship. This has been from earliest time the doctrine of the Church concerning our Lord, that he was always the Son of God.

We believe that the Son of God entered the human race as the virgin-born son of Mary. That brings up another highly controversial doctrine concerning Jesus, and that is his virgin birth. That is often confused with another doctrine that is not part of the Protestant faith but part of Catholic teaching, the Immaculate Conception. This is not the same thing as the Virgin Birth. The Immaculate Conception has to do with Mary. The Virgin Birth has to do with our Lord. The Catholic teaching is that Mary was conceived without sin, though there is nothing at all in Scripture to support that. It’s traditional teaching.

Many people, even sometimes evangelicals, downplay the importance of the Virgin Birth. You will sometimes hear otherwise evangelical pastors or teachers minimize the Virgin Birth and say it’s possible to believe in Christ without believing in the Virgin Birth. I suppose that could be true, as our faith can be deficient in many areas and still, if we know the Lord are in personal touch with him, we could be born again. Some of these doctrines, important as they may be, are not necessary to salvation.

I think it is helpful to understand that, though I do believe that once you are born again and begin to read the Bible it will not be long before you also believe in the Virgin Birth, because two of the gospel writers, Matthew and Luke, record it very prominently. Again, because it is in only two of the gospels, some of the critics say this is a sign it is not important, that the early Christians did not think it important or they would have put it in all the gospels. But they neglect to say that neither Mark nor John records the birth of Jesus at all. They are not talking about how he came into the world, but start at the beginning of his ministry when he was thirty years of age. That would be the reason they do not mention the Virgin Birth.

Paul seems to make reference to it in Galatians 4:4: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” Obviously, that would be a truism if he didn’t mean something more than natural birth, because all of us are born of woman. Most scholars think he refers here to the Virgin Birth. I think the reason you don’t find a lot of emphasis on the Virgin Birth in the Epistles is because it was so taken for granted.

The reason the Virgin Birth is so important is that it allows Jesus to be a sinless person. The whole doctrine of his impeccability (which is the theological term for sinlessness), hangs upon the Virgin Birth. (Class comment: Question about the births of Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac was born of promise, but both sons were conceived in the normal process, so this is not a reference to a virgin birth.) This is somewhat speculative, I grant, but I think there is some evidence in Scripture and, I believe, in biology, that the sin of Adam affected the entire race without exception. It is passed along through the male seed, and not through the female. This could at least be suggested by the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.

 I’m not an expert in Biology, though I studied it in high school and college, but as I recall when the ovum and the sperm are about to unite they each contain half chromosomes. There are forty-eight in the human cell, and these split in half before fertilization, so that when they join half are from the female and half from the male. Then the fetus begins to grow with a genetic structure partly derived from both. In the case of a virgin where there is no male fertilization at all, you would have in Mary’s case an ovum containing the forty-eight chromosomes waiting for fertilization, but no male chromosomes to unite with.

How then did Mary bear a normal human child? The answer is, God provided that. And if sin comes through the male line, and this I think is suggested, though it cannot be directly proven, because we are told that the race did not fall with Eve, but it did fall when Adam sinned—you would have then a sinless ovum, fertilized by the Holy Spirit himself, God the Creator furnishing what was necessary for the full development of the human embryo. Jesus would then be born a normal human baby, apart from the taint of sin. That is why God chose a virgin to be the mother of Jesus, to preserve his sinlessness.

The Bible preserves very, very carefully that sinless condition of our Lord. The argument is raised over whether Jesuscould have sinned or not. Some take the position that he could not have sinned at all because he was born without sin and his deity protected him so that he could not sin. Others say how then could he understand our temptations if he was not temptable? Hebrews 4:15 says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” If he is temptable, then he could have sinned. And that debate will have to wait until we are all in glory. What the Bible unequivocally says is thathe did no sin. He was tempted.

I remember how disturbed I was as a young Christian, working in Chicago for a man who was ostensibly, and probably was a Christian. I was working for the Presbyterian Church at the time who were putting on a series of banquets to raise money for Presbyterian colleges. It was at the very height of the Depression. This man, whom I had met in college, was the manager of this campaign. He was a good and dear man, but I mentioned something about the fact that Jesus had not sinned, and he disturbed me greatly by saying, “How do you know what happened all those years before he entered his ministry? We don’t know what happened when he was growing up as a boy in Nazareth.”

I had never thought of that. I assumed what I had been taught, that he was sinless. It bothered me for quite awhile. I wondered how do we know whether he did something wrong, maybe got into a fist fight with the kid next door, threw garbage over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, short-sheeted somebody’s bed, or something, while he was growing up? I didn’t get an answer to satisfy until one day studying through the gospels it suddenly dawned on me that this is what the Father is assuring us about at the baptism of Jesus. When Jesus came up from the water, the Spirit came upon him and a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He had pleased the Father all through those years, and this was the seal of approval.

So this is what the Virgin Birth protects and makes possible; that he entered the human stream fully sharing our humanity, as several verses of Scripture make very clear, but he was without sin. Paul says in Romans 8:1-3, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin an death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Sonin the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.” Not that his humanity was false or only an appearance, but that he was fully a man, but not a sinful man. Again in II Corinthians 5:21, the Apostle says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Hebrews tells us in two places that he was the holy one, without sin.

It is true that it is not necessary for us to fully understand before we become Christians, or even for a while afterward, but when you begin to get the full testimony of Scripture it becomes crystal clear that our Lord was indeed born of a virgin. Some are troubled by the statement in chapter seven of Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin who will give birth to a son, because the Revised Standard Version, among others, translate that “a young maiden” will bear a son. It’s true that the Hebrew can be translated maiden and does not necessarily refer to a virgin, but when that verse is quoted in Matthew, he uses a Greek wordparthenos to translate the Hebrew word, which means nothing but a virgin. By the way, it is the same word from which the beautiful ruined edifice on Mars Hill is named, the Parthenon, because it means the virgin goddess Athena for which Athens is named.

(Class question about Immaculate Conception) That is not a doctrine about Christ. It is a doctrine about Mary. The claim is that when she was born she too was born sinless. Catholic teaching tries to make Mary a kind of co-redemptress. In fact she is called that in Catholic teaching, that she shared in the redeeming work of Christ. And in order to do so she had to be sinless, so they have, I think, invented the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, having to do with Mary. Mary was not sinless; there is no support for that at all in Scripture. In fact in the gospel of Luke Mary’s own statement about herself is that she is a sinner. Luke 1:46-48, Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he as been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” Only a sinner needs a Savior. Catholics don’t explain it. It is just part of their teaching about Mary which is derived from the tradition of the church.

This is the difference between Catholic and Protestant views of authority. In the Catholic view, the Pope has replaced the Apostle Peter, is descended from Peter and has the same authority as Peter, and that the Apostles are the proclaimers of Christian doctrine. No Protestant would disagree that the Apostles are indeed proclaimers of Christian doctrine. What we would question is whether the Pope is the spiritual descendant of the Apostle Peter. But they say that traditionally Popes received additional revelation that Mary was born sinless. I don’t want to appear to downgrade the Catholic church because there are many true believers in the Catholic church just as in the Baptist church. But we do need to make some of these corrections.

The third statement about our Lord is that he was named Jesus. That is included in this because that was a God-given name. When the angel appeared to Joseph he told him not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, “because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:20-21) So God himself named his own Son, which the Father had the right to do. He was named Jesus which means “Jehovah saves.” He fulfilled in that title the prophecies of a coming Savior.

He was named Jesus and he fulfilled Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. That’s a wonderful study in itself. We don’t have time to go into all the prophecies throughout the Scriptures, of which there are many. Someone has computed that our Lord during the course of his lifetime fulfilled 333 predictions of him in the Old Testament. The odds of that amount of fulfillment just happening is quite impossible. Many of these are well known, such as the great prediction of Isaiah 53, where we have the very scene of the cross brought before us.

“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
Nothing to his appearance that we should desire him.
Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

 “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
Yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
And by his wounds we are healed.” (53:2-5)

My patron saint, Dr. H. A. Ironside, told me a wonderful story. He used to preach throughout California. He was with the Plymouth Brethren at that time. On one occasion, he was speaking at a church in San Bernardino, California, and he noticed a sandy-haired young man come in and look for a seat, finding one near the front. Dr. Ironside had not seen him before, so thought he might not be a believer so he tried to talk to him afterward, but couldn’t get to him soon enough. The next night he came again, and once again Ironside tried to reach him but he got away again.

The third night the young man came in a little late and there were no seats except on the very front row. Ironside thought to himself, I’ve got you tonight! As soon as the meeting ended the young man got up to go but Ironside was there beside him, asked his name, and the young man reluctantly gave it. Ironside asked, “Would you mind telling me whether you are a Christian?” “No I’m not”, he said. “Why have you come here?”, Ironside asked. “Well, I just stopped in the first night, and I got interested in hearing what this man, Isaiah says. My, can he sling the language!” Ironside said, “Would you tell me something about yourself?” He said. “I’m a British engineer and a few years ago I was assigned a project of building the railroad from Jappa on the coast of Israel up to Jerusalem. I’ve been reared in a non-Christian home, have no background in the Scriptures, and I was very much opposed to the Christian faith. But living in Palestine, I saw so many things that reminded me of the Bible that I couldn’t help believing some of these things might be true.

“One day I joined a tour that led out to Gordon’s Calvary (which is the little hill just outside the Damascus gate, which many believe is the site of the crucifixion. I am one of them.) The guide began to tell us that this was the traditional site where Jesus was crucified. I was so upset that what I regarded as an abominable heresy had begun on this very spot, that I began to curse God out loud. The people were so shocked they actually began to run down the hill to get away from me because they thought God would strike me dead. I never have been able to believe in Jesus, but this man Isaiah seems to say so many things about him.”

Ironside got his clue, and he said, “Let me show you something.” He turned to Isaiah 53, handed him the book and said, “Read that.” The young man began to read it, and suddenly he just dropped the Bible, turned on his heel and out the door he went, without saying a word. Ironside didn’t know what to make of it. He looked for him the next two nights and he didn’t come. Then the third night he came in, his head held high, walked down to the front with a big smile and sat down, and Ironside knew something had happened.

As soon as the meeting ended, he went to the young man and said, “I know something has happened to you. Will you tell me about it? “Well, he replied, after I left you having read from that passage in Isaiah, I realized this was Jesus he was talking about. I went home and got a Bible and read it through again and again, and suddenly the Lord opened my eyes and I realized the man I had cursed on Calvary was the one who was wounded for my transgressions and bruised for my iniquities, and the chastisement for my sins was laid upon him and by his stripes I am healed. I received him, and my heart has been so full of joy since then.”

The sequel to that story is, I was in Israel in 1967 with a group of people from PBC and elsewhere. It was my first visit to Israel, and we went out to this little hill, Gordon’s Calvary, which is now beside the tomb in a beautiful garden. We were sitting there looking at the scene of Calvary and the tomb, so I told this story to the group. The man who was in charge of the site at that time was an Arab Christian by the name of Solomon Mattar. He heard me tell that story, and came to me afterward and said, “I’ve never heard that story before. That is so interesting.” Someone had tape recorded it, and he asked for a tape. The next day I brought him one and he looked very grateful. That was April, 1967. In June the Israelis re-captured the city of Jerusalem, and as the Jewish soldiers came up the street to the Garden Tomb, the keepers of the tomb had heard the gun shots and had run and hid in the tomb of Jesus for safety, because there were bullets ricocheting through that place. Soldiers pounded on the gate and Solomon Mattar went to the gate. When he opened it he saw there were Jewish soldiers outside, and he did exactly the wrong thing. Instead of standing there and identifying himself, he turned and ran, and the soldiers shot him. He died at the entrance to the Garden Tomb. I never read Isaiah 53 without thinking about the remarkable story of the young man who cursed God on Calvary and then realized Jesus was the one who fulfilled that prophecy.

There are many other prophecies. Psalm 22 is another noteworthy one, where the very words Jesus uttered on the cross, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” It pictures the crucifixion, one whose hands and feet were pierced, and whose garments were divided among them.

Years ago I was teaching a Bible class in Menlo Park. A young Jewish student from Stanford University was in the class, a handsome, brilliant young man. He came to me after class and told me he was Jewish and asked about the Old Testament predictions of Jesus. I turned to Psalm 22 and he read the words, “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing,” and “they have pierced my hands and my feet. He stood there transfixed, holding the Bible in his hands, and he said, “I saw The Robe” (the movie film). He said, “I can’t believe this. I never knew this was in the Jewish Bible.” Later that evening I had the joy of leading him to the Lord.

Many people have been impressed by the fulfillment of the prophecies, and you cannot study those predictions without seeing that God has throughout the course of history been laying the groundwork to be fulfilled by the Lord in his coming. I wish we had time to examine it further, and go into some of those prophetic Scriptures.

Jews are sometimes characterized as “killers of Christ”, and anti-Semitic campaigns often apply this term as though they lone were responsible for the death of Jesus. We must remember that in the Scriptures, both the Romans who were Gentiles and the Jews are involved in the death of Christ. So as we condemn the Jews, so we condemn ourselves, since we too are descendants of those who crucified the Lord. I hope none of you are guilty of anti-semitism in that regard. They are no more guilty than we are.

The attitude of evil in all of us is the same attitude, which prompted both the Gentle and Jewish worlds to put him to death. Remember I Corinthians 2 Paul says the world by wisdom did not know God. “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (2:8) Their mistake was from ignorance. This is true of both Jews and Gentiles. So the world stands guilty of failing to recognize him when he came.

Still today, hope many people have heard the claims of Christ and rejected them, unwilling to accept the implications of acknowledging that he was the Son of God. We are confronted with the same issues as the world of that time. So our Lord was set aside, rejected by Gentiles and Jews, condemned by Pontius Pilate even though it was obvious he was innocent. Pilate himself twice said this was an innocent man, so that the Roman judge has gone on record as saying he condemned an innocent man to death. The gospel account establishes this clearly.

Our Lord was then rejected, and buried in a borrowed tomb. You know the story of how Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man who had prepared it for his own death, placed Jesus’ body in his own tomb. The Scriptures make a great deal—more than you would think—of the burial of Jesus. Paul says it is part of the Gospel which he gives us in I Corinthians 15:1-8: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I have received (from whom? Not from the other Apostles, but from the Lord himself. It is amazing to me how many evangelical writers still try to claim Paul got his Gospel from the other twelve. He denies this in Galatians, where he says he did not receive it from them) I passed on to you s of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to he Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” That is the Gospel, the Good News.

Why do you think he includes the burial of Jesus? So there would be no question of his death. How many books still appear on the market that try to establish that our Lord did not really die; that he fainted, or was in a coma and the coolness of the tomb revived him, and he really was not dead. But he was there three days and three nights, and it is clearly established that he was dead, so his resurrection takes on far great meaning.

The atoning work of Jesus is a vast theme. The Cross of Christ is the central teaching of the New Testament. Everything Jesus did was in view of the cross. He saw the cross from the very beginning. When Jesus was born and shepherds came to worship him, Mary hid all these things in her heart and pondered them, and somewhere along the line she began to get information that he was going to die, and she was troubled by it.

Jesus himself understood this. He made it crystal clear to his disciples toward the end of his ministry that he knew he was headed for the cross. In his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane he was facing the cross. Not just the physical anguish and torment which was horrendous in itself, but mainly the sense of separation from the Father which he knew he would have to endure. If any of us have experienced a sense of hopelessness and abandonment, of having no one to turn to, without friends and left adrift, cut off from all human contact—this would be just a slight indication of what our Lord was facing as he anticipated the cross. The thing that strengthened and held him steady throughout his ministry was constantly leaning back upon the Father.

(Class Question) He tells us there were things he did not know as man. He didn’t know the date of his return. But what he learned about himself he learned from the Scriptures. You remember the scene in the temple when he was twelve, he said to his parents, “Do you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” He at least had some intimation at that time of a ministry that awaited him, probably even that early something of his death, because the Scriptures portrayed it. He read the Scriptures, Isaiah, Deuteronomy, which were his favorite Old Testament books (because he quotes them most often.) He would have seen that they all pointed toward his death. As he does things that fulfill Scripture, he says several times, “in order that the Scripture be fulfilled, let us….” He knew he was moving according to a pattern, which the Father himself had chosen for him.

There are many theories of the Atonement that sometimes are conflicting. Probably most of them are true. What we are facing here is such an enormous spiritual truth, of such remarkable proportions and dimensions that almost anything said will be at least partially true. It’s like the fable of the five blind men who examined the elephant. One feels the tail and says an elephant is like a snake; another grabs the trunk and says it’s a huge rope; another feels his leg and says it’s like a pillar; another his side and says it’s like a wall. This is what we encounter when we deal with the truths of the Cross, the Incarnation, almost anything concerning our Lord. It is so vast we only see sections of it at a time, so most theories of the Atonement would have at least a grain of truth to them. Some are inadequate, and some false. A good study on this is a book by John R. W. Stott , called The Cross of Christ, a wonderfully thorough treatment of the Atonement.

One thing we want to avoid in thinking of the Cross is that in some way Jesus is placating the wrath of God the Father; that the Father is angry with the race and wants to wipe them out. Jesus comes in and placates his wrath by the sacrifice of himself, and God is willing to accept it. This is a very inadequate view of the cross. What the Scriptures say is that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself; that the Father was as much involved in the sacrifice of the Son. He designed it, and sent him into the world for that purpose, out of his love for the lost. Paul states it very clearly in Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The Father involved in the cross, feeling the pain and the shame of it as much as the Son.

What you find is that the Father finds a way to satisfy his own sense of justice, through the death of his Son. Thus his love is free to be manifested without condemnation toward lost man. This is the glory of the Gospel. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are involved in the work of redemption, were willing to do so in order that man might be saved. I think we ought to study the work of Christ on the cross in the Epistles with great reverence in the marvel and wonder of it. Charles Wesley’s great hymn captures it so faithfully:

“And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

That is a great theological statement, isn’t it! Likewise, the second verse:

“’Tis mystery all! Th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the first-born seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
 ‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.

The immortal dies! How can that be? That is the marvel that I think Satan did not understand. He thought he had Jesus trapped when he was put to death. He could not understand how God could die. He knew sin required death, and if man died that was the end of him. So Satan’s reasoning was, how could God redeem us?

So throughout the Scriptures this is the wonder that stirred the early Christians to go out and spread this good news to men everywhere. God had found a way to set aside his just sentence of condemnation, and welcome sinners into his presence. That’s the glory of the Gospel. All this is involved in this great statement concerning our Lord.

“He was raised on the third day according to the (Old Testament) Scriptures.” The Atonement without the Resurrection would be a redemption that could not apply to anybody. We need the Resurrection in order to have the work of Atonement applied to us. It is because Christ rose from the dead that we are able to receive this great truth of his atoning grace. Paul argues this at great length in I Corinthians 15:17: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Our preaching, our work is in vain, and “we are of all men most miserable,” if Christ is not risen from the dead. All Christian faith rests upon the twin foundation stones; the atoning work of Christ on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead. They go together. This was the Gospel of the early church, and is yet today. As we go everywhere telling that God has raised him from the dead, we give proof and application of these great truths.

Again this is a doctrine highly attacked. Since it is so crucial to Christian faith, this is where the enemies of Christianity aim their big guns, trying to destroy all confidence in the resurrection of Christ. Repeatedly throughout history, from generation to generation, books appear that attack the resurrection of Jesus. “The Passover Plot”, is a case in point, by a Jewish writer who tried to explain away the resurrection. Matthew Arnold, a British writer back in the nineteenth century, tried to say that Jesus never rose from the dead: “Now he is dead, and so he lies in some lone Syrian town. And on his grave with gleaming eyes the Syrian stars look down.” But that is not true. Thank God, he rose from the dead! And because he rose, his life is available to us, the Spirit has been sent to us, and this is the finishing stone in the whole structure of redemption.

The book of Hebrews makes a great deal of this. I am now involved in writing a commentary on Hebrews, and it is so refreshing to come to those passages where the writer invites us, “let us come boldly unto the throne of grace”, because we can enter into the holy of holies, by the blood of Jesus, and receive help in time of need. This is the unseen, invisible means of support which Christians have that non-Christians know nothing about. That’s why it is so disappointing and so shameful for Christians to give way to pressures and problems, because they are obviously not relying upon the adequacy of the resources available to them. But if we would use that resource, flee to the one who is able to help us, this is Jesus’ ministry as Melchizedek, the living priest who is able to give help at any time to those who rely upon him. We have an inner source of peace and strength that enables us to work our way through the problems. The problems won’t disappear, but the resource to handle them will be given.

(Class Questions) The question is about the equality of the Son with the Father. It says the Father sent the Son, this would imply unequal authority. This is a matter of function. As an analogy, in the United States we say that all individuals are equal before the law. This would be equally true of the President and the Vice President, yet in function one is subordinate to the other. But they are still equal before the law. In the Trinity, the Father is in a sense the planner, the Initiator, while the Son is Designer supplying the details. Different functions, but equal in authority.

Before we close I would like to refer you to a passage in Hebrews which I think has been neglected in exposition in most of the commentaries, but a remarkable statement about our Lord. The four things he did in his coming to earth is set forth in chapter two. First of all, he re-captured the lost destiny of man; that which Adam lost, Jesus won back. In Hebrews 2:5 it says:

“It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we  are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified (quoting  from Psalm two): ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man  that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you  crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.’”

That is the destiny of man in the eyes of God. That is what we were made for.

“In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. (He is not talking about God, but about man.) Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

What does he mean? He means that Jesus fulfills that intention of God for mankind. As we join with Jesus, then, and are made part of him, we too re-capture our lost destiny. I have often thought that as you read through the gospels you see Jesus doing these remarkable miracles, and demonstrate a control of nature. Most of the commentators say this was proof he was God. I think it is proof he was man. When he stilled the wind and the waves, when he multiplied the fish and bread, changed water into wine, etc., I think he was exercising power Adam could have done before his fall, because everything was subject to him. Therefore Jesus was fulfilling the normal destiny of mankind, and probably in the resurrection we will be able to do those things ourselves. It’s an intriguing thought, isn’t it? But I think this is what our Lord has done; he has re-captured man’s destiny. We don’t see everything under man’s command now.

The second thing that is stated is that Jesus has recovered for us our lost unity: (verses 10-11):

“In bringing many sons to glory it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, ‘I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again he says, ‘Here am I, and the children God has given me.’”

That’s a picture, you see, of one family. All belonging to one Father, and Jesus makes himself our brother. He is not ashamed to call us brothers. There is a restoration of divided humanity that we see in the world today—all the racial strife and class struggles, economic differences and all that are so evident in our world are going to be wiped away because of the work of Jesus. He re-unites us as a race and restores the family of God.

The third accomplishment is in verses 14-15. He has come to release us from our present bondage:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death— that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

What makes us work so hard and run so fast and be so restless? We think we have to get it now, don’t we? We’re afraid it’s all going to disappear in death. And Jesus has released us from that. “Where, O grave, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
 Our Lord has come to loose the bonds of the devil and free us from that kind of fear.

The last thing, is to restore us in times of failure (verse 16-18):

“For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to
God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help Those who are being tempted.”

So he is able to restore us, able to strengthen us, able to help us. Four wonderful things have been given us because of our Lord’s coming. He re-captured our lost destiny; he recovered our lost unity; he releases us from our present bondage to fear; he restores us in times of failure.

Title: Concerning the Son Author: Ray C. Stedman
   Date:1989
From your friends at
www.RayStedman.org