9. For the Forgiveness of Our Sins,

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. Ephesians 1:7 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:28,, When we forgive a debt or an offense or an injury, we don't require a payment for settlement. That would be the opposite of forgiveness. If repayment is made to us for what we lost, there is no need for forgiveness. We have our due. Forgiveness assumes grace. If I am injured by you, grace lets it go. I don't sue you. I forgive you. Grace gives what someone doesn't deserve. That's why forgiveness has the word give in it. Forgiveness is not "getting" even. It is giving away the right to get even. That is what God does to us when we trust Christ: "Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43). If we believe in Christ, God no longer holds our sins against us. This is God's own testimony in the Bible: "I, I am he who wipes out your transgressions for my own sake" (Isaiah 43:25). "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12). But this raises a problem. We all know that forgiveness is not enough. We may only see it clearly when the injury is great-like murder or rape. Neither society nor the universe can hold together if judges (or God) simply say to every murderer and rapist, "Are you sorry? Okay. The state forgives you. You may go." In cases like these we see that while a victim may have a forgiving spirit, the state cannot forsake justice. So it is with God's justice. All sin is serious, because it is against God (see chapter 1). He is the one whose glory is injured when we ignore or disobey or blaspheme him. His justice will no more allow him simply to set us free than a human judge can cancel all the debts that criminals owe to society. The injury done to God's glory by our sin must be repaired so that in justice his glory shines more brightly. And if we criminals are to go free and be forgiven, there must be some dramatic demonstration that the honor of God is upheld even though former blasphemers are being set free. That is why Christ suffered and died. "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses" (Ephesians 1:7). Forgiveness costs us nothing. All our costly obedience is the fruit, not the root, of being forgiven. That's why we call it grace. But it cost Jesus his life. That is why we call it just. Oh, how precious is the news that God does not hold our sins against us! And how beautiful is Christ, whose blood made it right for God to do this.

8. To Become a Ransom for Many

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45. There is no thought in the Bible that Satan had to be paid off to let sinners be saved. What happened to Satan when Christ died was not payment, but defeat. The Son of God became human so "that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14). There was no negotiation. When Jesus says that he came "to give his life as a ransom," the focus is not on who gets the payment. The focus is on his own life as the payment, and on his freedom in serving rather than being served, and on the "many" who will benefit from the pay- ment he makes. If we ask who received the ransom, the biblical answer would surely be God. The Bible says that Christ "gave himself up for us, [an] . . . offering . . . to God" (Ephesians 5:2). Christ "offered him- self without blemish to God" (Hebrews 9:14). The whole need for a substitute to die on our behalf is because we have sinned against God and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). And because of our sin, "the whole world [is] held accountable to God" (Romans 3:19). So when Christ gives himself as a ransom for us, the Bible says that we are freed from the condemnation of God. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). The ultimate captivity from which we need release is the final "judgment of God" (Romans 2:2; Revelation 14:7). The ransom price of this release from God's condemnation is the life of Christ. Not just his life lived, but his life given up in death. Jesus said repeatedly to his disciples, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him" (Mark 9:31). In fact, one of the reasons Jesus loved to call himself "the Son of Man" (over sixty-five times in the Gospels) was that it had the ring of mortality about it. Men can die. That's why he had to be one. The ransom could only be paid by the Son of Man, because the ransom was a life given up in death. The price was not coerced from him. That's the point of say- ing, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve." He needed no service from us. He was the giver, not the receiver. "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord" (John 10:18). The price was paid freely; it was not forced. Which brings us again to his love. He freely chose to rescue us at the cost of his life. How many did Christ effectively ransom from sin? He said that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many." Yet not everyone will be ransomed from the wrath of God. But the offer is for everyone. "There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Timothy 2:5-6). No one is excluded from this salvation who embraces the treasure of the ransoming Christ.

3. To Learn Obedience and Be Perfected

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. Hebrews 5:8 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. Hebrews 2:10 The very book in the Bible that says Christ "learned obedience" through suffering, and that he was "made perfect" through suffering, also says that he was "without sin." "In every respect [Christ] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). This is the consistent teaching of the Bible. Christ was sinless. Although he was the divine Son of God, he was really human, with all our temptations and appetites and physical weaknesses. There was hunger (Matthew 21:18) and anger and grief (Mark 3:5) and pain (Matthew 17:12). But his heart was perfectly in love with God, and he acted consistently with that love: "He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth" (1 Peter 2:22). Therefore, when the Bible says that Jesus "learned obedience through what he suffered," it doesn't mean that he learned to stop disobeying. It means that with each new trial he learned in practice-and in pain-what it means to obey. When it says that he was "made perfect through suffering," it doesn't mean that he was gradually getting rid of defects. It means that he was gradually fulfilling the perfect righteousness that he had to have in order to save us. That's what he said at his baptism. He didn't need to be baptized because he was a sinner. Rather, he explained to John the Baptist, "Thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). The point is this: If the Son of God had gone from incarnation to the cross without a life of temptation and pain to test his righteousness and his love, he would not be a suitable Savior for fallen man. His suffering not only absorbed the wrath of God. It also fulfilled his true humanity and made him able to call us brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:17).

25. To Become for Us the Place Where We Meet God

Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. John 2:19-21 Kill me, and I will become the global meeting place with God." That's the way I would paraphrase John 2:19-21. They thought Jesus was referring to the temple in Jerusalem: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." But he was referring to his body. Why did Jesus draw the connection between the Jewish temple and his own body? Because he came to take the place of the temple as the meeting place with God. With the coming of the Son of God in human flesh, ritual and worship would undergo profound change. Christ himself would become the final Passover lamb, the final priest, the final temple. They would all pass away, and he would remain. What remained would be infinitely better. Referring to himself, Jesus said, "I tell you, something greater than the temple is here" (Matthew 12:6). The temple became the dwelling of God at rare times when the glory of God filled the holy place. But of Christ the Bible says, "In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Colossians 2:9). The presence of God does not come and go on Jesus. He is God. Where we meet him, we meet God. God met the people in the temple through many imperfect human mediators. But now it is said of Christ, "There is one media- tor between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). If we would meet God in worship, there is only one place we must go, to Jesus Christ. Christianity has no geographical center like Islam and Judaism. Once when Jesus confronted a woman with her adultery, she changed the subject and said, "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship." Jesus followed her on the detour: "Woman, . . . the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father." Geography is not the issue. What is? Jesus continued, "The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (John 4:20-23). Jesus changes the categories entirely. Not in this mountain or in that city, but in spirit and in truth. He came into the world to explode geographical limitation. There is no temple now. Jerusalem is not the center. Christ is. Do we want to see God? Jesus says, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Do we want to receive God? Jesus says, "Whoever receives me receives him who sent me" (Matthew 10:40). Do we want to have the presence of God in worship? The Bible says, "Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also" (1 John 2:23). Do we want to honor the Father? Jesus says, "Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him" (John 5:23). When Christ died and rose again, the old temple was replaced by the globally accessible Christ. You may come to him without moving a muscle. He is as close as faith.

35. To Give Marriage Its Deepest Meaning

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Ephesians 5:25 God's design for marriage in the Bible pictures the husband loving his wife the way Christ loves his people, and the wife responding to her husband the way Christ's people should respond to him. This picture was in God's mind when he sent Christ into the world. Christ came for his bride and died for her to display the way marriage was meant to be. No, the point of the analogy is not that husbands should suffer at the hands of their wives. It's true, that did happen to Jesus in a sense. He suffered in order to bring a people-a bride-into being, and these very people were among those who caused his suffering. And much of his sorrow was because his disciples abandoned him (Matthew 26:56). But the point of the analogy is how Jesus loved them to the point of death and did not cast them away. God's idea for marriage preceded the union of Adam and Eve and the coming of Christ. We know this because when Christ's apostle explained the mystery of marriage, he reached back to the beginning of the Bible and quoted Genesis 2:24, "A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." Then in the next sentence he interpreted what he had just quoted: "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:31-32). That means that in God's mind marriage was designed in the beginning to display Christ's relationship to his people. The reason marriage is called a "mystery" is that this aim for marriage was not clearly revealed until the coming of Christ. Now we see that marriage is meant to make Christ's love for his people more visible in the world. Since this was in God's mind from the beginning, it was also in Christ's mind when he faced death. He knew that among the many effects of his suffering was this: making the deepest meaning of marriage plain. All his sufferings were meant to be a message especially to husbands: This is how every husband should love his wife. Even though God did not aim, in the beginning, for marriages to be miserable, many are. That's what sin does. It makes us treat each other badly. Christ suffered and died to change that. Wives have their responsibility in this change. But Christ gives a special responsibility to husbands. That's why the Bible says, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25). Husbands are not Christ. But they are called to be like him. And the specific point of likeness is the husband's readiness to suffer for his wife's good without threatening or abusing her. This includes suffering to protect her from any outside forces that would harm her, as well as suffering disappointments or abuses even from her. This kind of love is possible because Christ died for both husband and wife. Their sins are forgiven. Neither needs to make the other suffer for sins. Christ has borne that suffering. Now as two sinful and forgiven people we can return good for evil.

18. To Heal Us from Moral and Physical Sickness

Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 [He] healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: "He took our illnesses and bore our diseases." Matthew 8:16-17 Christ suffered and died so that disease would one day be utterly destroyed. Disease and death were not part of God's original way with the world. They came in with sin as part of God's judgment on creation. The Bible says, "The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who sub- jected it, in hope" (Romans 8:20). God subjected the world to the futility of physical pain to show the horror of moral evil. This futility included death. "Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin" (Romans 5:12). It included all the groaning of disease. And Christians are not excluded: "Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit [that is, those who trust Christ], groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23). But all this misery of disease is temporary. We look forward to a time when bodily pain will be no more. The subjection of creation to futility was not permanent. From the very beginning of his judgment, the Bible says God aimed at hope. His final purpose was this: "that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). When Christ came into the world, he was on a mission to accomplish this global redemption. He signaled his purposes by healing many people during his lifetime. There were occasions when the crowds gathered and he "healed all who were sick" (Matthew 8:16; Luke 6:19). This was a preview of what was coming at the end of history when "he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore" (Revelation 21:4). The way Christ defeated death and disease was by taking them on himself and carrying them with him to the grave. God's judgment on the sin that brought disease was endured by Jesus when he suffered and died. The prophet Isaiah explained the death of Christ with these words: "He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). The horrible blows to the back of Jesus bought a world without disease. One day all disease will be banished from God's redeemed creation. There will be a new earth. We will have new bodies. Death will be swallowed up by everlasting life (1 Corinthians 15:54; 2 Corinthians 5:4). "The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox" (Isaiah 65:25). And all who love Christ will sing songs of thanks to the Lamb who was slain to redeem us from sin and death and disease.

33. To Make His Cross the Ground of All Our Boasting

Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 6:14 This seems over the top. Boast only in the cross! Really? Literally only in the cross? Even the Bible talks about other things to boast in. Boast in the glory of God (Romans 5:2). Boast in our tribulations (Romans 5:3). Boast in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). Boast in the people of Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:19). What does "only" mean here? It means that all other boasting should still be a boasting in the cross. If we boast in the hope of glory, that very boast should be a boast in the cross of Christ. If we boast in the people of Christ, that very boasting should be a boasting in the cross. Boasting only in the cross means only the cross enables every other legitimate boast, and every legitimate boast should there- fore honor the cross. Why? Because every good thing-indeed, even every bad thing that God turns for good-was obtained for us by the cross of Christ. Apart from faith in Christ, sinners get only judgment. Yes, there are many pleasant things that come to unbelievers. But the Bible teaches that even these natural blessings of life will only increase the severity of God's judgment in the end, if they are not received with thanks on the basis of Christ's sufferings (Romans 2:4-5). Therefore, everything that we enjoy, as people who trust Christ, is owing to his death. His suffering absorbed all the judg- ment that guilty sinners deserved and purchased all the good that forgiven sinners enjoy. Therefore all our boasting in these things should be a boasting in the cross of Christ. We are not as Christ- centered and cross-cherishing as we should be, because we do not ponder the truth that everything good, and everything bad that God turns for the good, was purchased by the sufferings of Christ. And how do we become that radically cross-focused? We must awaken to the truth that when Christ died on the cross, we died (see chapter 31). When this happened to the apostle Paul, he said, "The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). This is the key to Christ-centered boasting in the cross. When you put your trust in Christ, the overpowering attrac- tion of the world is broken. You are a corpse to the world, and the world is a corpse to you. Or to put it positively, you are a "new creation" (Galatians 6:15). The old you is dead. A new you is alive-the you of faith in Christ. And what marks this faith is that it treasures Christ above everything in the world. The power of the world to woo your love away has died. Being dead to the world means that every legitimate pleasure in the world becomes a blood-bought evidence of Christ's love and an occasion of boasting in the cross. When our hearts run back along the beam of blessing to the source in the cross, then the worldliness of the blessing is dead, and Christ crucified is everything.

21. To Reconcile Us to God

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Romans 5:10 The reconciliation that needs to happen between sinful man and God goes both ways. Our attitude toward God must be changed from defiance to faith. And God's attitude to us must be changed from wrath to mercy. But the two are not the same. I need God's help to change; but God does not need mine. My change will have to come from outside of me, but God's change originates in his own nature. Which means that overall, it is not a change in God at all. It is God's own planned action to stop being against me and start being for me. The all-important words are "while we were enemies." This is when "we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10). While we were enemies. In other words, the first "change" was God's, not ours. We were still enemies. Not that we were consciously on the warpath. Most people don't feel con- scious hostility to God. The hostility is manifest more subtly with a quiet insubordination and indifference. The Bible describes it like this: "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot" (Romans 8:7). While we were still like that, God put Christ forward to bear our wrath-kindling sins and make it possible for him to treat us with mercy alone. God's first act in reconciling us to himself was to remove the obstacle that made him irreconcilable, namely, the God-belittling guilt of our sin. "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Corinthians 5:19). When the ambassadors of Christ take this message to the world, they say, "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be recon- ciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). Do they only mean: Change your attitude to God? No, they also mean: Receive the prior work of God in Christ to reconcile himself to you. Consider this analogy of reconciliation among men. Jesus said, "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remem- ber that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24). When he says, "Be reconciled to your brother," notice that it is the brother who must remove his judgment. The brother is the one who "has something against you," just as God has something against us. "Be reconciled to your brother" means do what you must so that your brother's judgment against you will be removed. But when we hear the gospel of Christ, we find that God has already done that: He took the steps we could not take to remove his own judgment. He sent Christ to suffer in our place. The decisive reconciliation happened "while we were enemies." Reconciliation from our side is simply to receive what God has already done, the way we receive an infinitely valuable gift.

24. To Give Us Confident Access to the Holiest Place

We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus. Hebrews 10:19 One of the great mysteries in the Old Testament was the meaning of the worship tent used by Israel called the "tabernacle." The mystery was hinted at but not clear. When the people of Israel came out of Egypt and arrived at Mount Sinai, God gave detailed instructions to Moses about how to build this mobile tent of worship with all its parts and furnishings. The mysterious thing about it was this command: "See that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain" (Exodus 25:40). When Christ came into the world 1,400 years later, it was more fully revealed that this "pattern" for the old tabernacle was a "copy" or a "shadow" of realities in heaven. The tabernacle was an earthly figure of a heavenly reality. So in the New Testament we read this: "[The priests] serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, 'See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain'" (Hebrews 8:5). So all the worship practices of Israel in the Old Testament point toward something more real. Just as there were holy rooms in the tabernacle, where the priest repeatedly took the blood of the animal sacrifices and met with God, so there are infinitely superior "holy places," as it were, in heaven, where Christ entered with his own blood, not repeatedly, but once for all. When Christ appeared as a high priest . . . through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12) The implication of this for us is that the way is now opened for us to go with Christ into all the holiest places of God's pres- ence. Formerly only the Jewish priests could go into the "copy" and "shadow" of these places. Only the high priest could go once a year into the most holy place where the glory of God appeared (Hebrews 9:7). There was a forbidding curtain protecting the place of glory. The Bible tells us that when Christ breathed his last on the cross, "the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split" (Matthew 27:51). What did that mean? The interpretation is given in these words: "We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh" (Hebrews 10:19- 20). Without Christ the holiness of God had to be protected from us. He would have been dishonored, and we would have been consumed because of our sin. But now, because of Christ, we may come near and feast our hearts on the fullness of the flaming beauty of God's holiness. He will not be dishonored . We will not be consumed. Because of the all-protecting Christ, God will be honored, and we will stand in everlasting awe. Therefore, do not fear to come. But come through Christ.

50. To Show That the Worst Evil Is Meant by God for Good

In this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus . . . both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. Acts 4:27-28 The most profound thing we can say about suffering and evil is that, in Jesus Christ, God entered into it and turned it for good. The origin of evil is shrouded in mystery. The Bible does not take us as far as we might like to go. Rather it says, "The secret things belong to . . . God" (Deuteronomy 29:29). The heart of the Bible is not an explanation of where evil came from, but a demonstration of how God enters into it and turns it for the very opposite-everlasting righteousness and joy. There were pointers in the Scriptures all along the way that it would be like this for the Messiah. Joseph, the son of Jacob, was sold into slavery in Egypt. He seemed abandoned for seventeen years. But God was in it and made him ruler in Egypt, so that in a great famine he could save the very ones who sold him. The story is summed up in a word from Joseph to his brothers: "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20). A foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, forsaken in order to save. Or consider Christ's ancestry. Once God was the only king in Israel. But the people rebelled and asked for a human king: "No! But there shall be a king over us" (1 Samuel 8:19). Later they confessed, "We have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king" (1 Samuel 12:19). But God was in it. From the line of these kings he brought Christ into the world. The sinless Savior had his earthly origin in sin as he came to save sinners. But the most astonishing thing is that evil and suffering were Christ's appointed way of victory over evil and suffering. Every act of treachery and brutality against Jesus was sinful and evil. But God was in it. The Bible says, "Jesus [was] delivered up [to death] according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23). The lash on his back, the thorns on his head, the spit on his cheek, the bruises on his face, the nails in his hands, the spear in his side, the scorn of rulers, the betrayal of his friend, the desertion by his disciples-these were all the result of sin, and all designed by God to destroy the power of sin. "Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, [did] whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:27-28). There is no greater sin than to hate and kill the Son of God. There was no greater suffering nor any greater innocence than the suffering and innocence of Christ. Yet God was in it all. "It was the will of the Lord to crush him" (Isaiah 53:10). His aim, through evil and suffering, was to destroy evil and suffering. "With his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). This is why Jesus came to die. God meant to show the world that there is no sin and no evil too great that God cannot bring from it everlasting righteousness and joy. The very suffering that we caused became the hope of our salvation. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

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