“How…can we possibly believe that God needed some kind of ‘satisfaction’ before He was prepared to forgive [man], and that Jesus Christ provided it [satisfaction] by enduring as our ‘substitute’ for the punishment we sinners deserved” [112, The Cross of Christ].
John Stott is outraged by the thought that almighty God could be beholden to anyone and anything and in my previous post, [“Did the devil make God do it?”] he takes on the idea that God had to use His Son Jesus as a bargaining chip to defeat Satan. He cannot understand why Christians think these thoughts. God is all powerful and it is denigrating to have Him making deals with the devil. Not only does God not need some sort of satisfaction in order to forgive man, but the devil certainly does not have the power to exact any demand on Holy God.
After dispensing with the idea that the devil has any power over God, Stott turns to the more complex relationship: God’s relationship with law. What makes this more complex is the fact that His Son lived on earth where He was subject to man’s law.
Man’s law demands obedience. When a law is broken, lawbreakers have to obey the justice system by paying for their disobedience. Then there is moral law. When sinners sin, don’t they also incur some sort of penalty for their sinning? They cannot be simply let “off the hook.” For law to work, “its dignity [must be] defended and its just penalties paid. The law has to be ‘satisfied.’”
Is God under the stricture of man’s law? What about His Son Jesus Christ?
I found it interesting that Stott uses the familiar Bible story of Daniel and the lion’s den to illustrate the dilemma that can occur over obeying the law. King Darius was certainly not God but he was a powerful man who expected devotion from his subjects. Of course Daniel was a visitor to the king’s country and Daniel had serious problems with worshipping a king because he was devoted to worshipping God. He enjoyed the king’s favor and that made him an object of envy by members of the king’s court. They plotted to get Daniel in trouble and they did so by getting Darius to pass a law: any man who prayed to any God except King Darius for thirty days would be thrown into the lion’s den. They knew that Daniel had a daily habit of praying to Yahweh three times a day. When news of the new law reached him, Daniel not only continued to pray to God but he did so in an upstairs room which had windows facing Jerusalem. He was in public view. In short, he was caught and had to be thrown in the lion’s den. Darius was greatly distressed and wanted to save him but he was trapped by his own law. Daniel had to be thrown into the den. The law had to be satisfied. No substitutes could be made. Daniel was the offender; Daniel had to be punished.
King Darius’ dilemma was a good illustration of how law ensnares even the most powerful. The decree was in writing and that made it unalterable.
Any comparison between Darius and God stops right there. Darius was powerful but God is God and God is all-powerful.
How much does God have to obey the law?
God does not have to obey the law at all; God is the creator of law. His law supersedes man’s law. His law is the foundation that man’s laws are often based on [I use the word “often” to allow for unjust laws that have been created by unjust men].
But what about His Son Jesus? He lived on the earth. Did He have to obey the law?
Jesus repeatedly points out in Scripture that the Pharisees and Sadducees were too rigid in their adherence to all the extensive rules related to Old Testament Law. Jesus felt that these rules were so strict that no man could successfully follow them. Jesus found Himself in certain situations that demanded that the rules needed to be broken or at least ignored. He touched lepers. He healed people on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples pulled grain from crops in the field as they were walking. He talked to women. He advocated the symbolic drinking of blood [the wine at the Last Supper]. He denounced the religious authorities of the day for advocating laws which were impossible to follow, yet He stated that He did not come to abolish the law but fulfill it.
Many point to the fact that Jesus had to pay the ultimate price for his “law-breaking;” He had to bear the penalty of death. Why did Jesus have to do this? Could God not have saved Him from this horrible punishment? Is this an example of an “all-powerful” God allowing obedience to man’s laws?
Of course, God could have taken “this cup” from His Son but that was not the plan. God created a perfect Son who submitted to earthly laws and obeyed them unto death. What is the message that Jesus is sending to the world by breaking or ignoring extreme religious regulations? Those regulations were not reflective of His Father’s law; they were more about maintaining power among the elite of contemporary Jewish society. Did Jesus obey the laws of the Roman Government? Yes He did. He fulfilled the messianic predictions within the laws of His day. He encouraged others to obey the laws of the day. It is New Testament Scripture but Paul writing in Romans 13: 1-2 says it best: “Obey the government, for God is the One who has put it there. … So those who refuse to obey the law of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow.” Jesus was clearly teaching obedience to the Roman laws. He and His followers were obeying God’s commands, rather than religious rules and regulations, but they were not breaking civil laws. Jesus and the disciples were law-abiding citizens of the Roman Empire. Jesus was tasked with doing two important things at once. He had to display perfect obedience to the civil law and He had to communicate that religious law was not of God His Father. For accomplishing His task, He had to suffer an unjust penalty. When He could have defended Himself, He did not mount any defense. He went to His death in an obedient fashion, just as God had planned.
Stop and think about what that Scripture says. God put the law in place. God is above Human law. Jesus could have been saved when He was on trial: His Father could have saved Him. Jesus could have summoned angels to save Himself. He chose not to do that; He recognized that in the context of His day He should not rise above the law that everyone else had to follow. There are always those (even in our world today) who feel they are “above the law” but that attitude can breed hatred among those who don’t have power and are forced to live under the law.
Let’s return to the situation with King Darius and Daniel. Due to Darius’ envious advisors, the king punished a righteous man for righteous practices. Darius was caught in what Stott called a “technical legal muddle.” God is never in this situation. Stott describes God’s connection to law with the following powerful words from R.W. Dale’s book Atonement: “God’s connection with the law is ‘not a relation of subjection but of identity….In God the law is alive; it reigns on His throne, sways His scepter, is crowned with His glory.”
Can man demand obedience of God? Of course not. Did man’s law apply to His Son Jesus when He was on earth? It did and Jesus followed man’s civil law. Jesus was perfectly obedient to man’s law and at the same time He was perfectly obedient to God’s law. He broke no commandments. As followers of God and His Son Jesus Christ, it is important for us to understand these closing words by Stott regarding satisfaction of the law and the substitution of Jesus for the breaking of man’s law.
God’s moral laws bring condemnation for humankind because God created those laws. Stott says it this way:
“The real reason why disobedience of God’s moral laws brings condemnation is not that God is their prisoner, but that He is their creator.”*
*emphatic punctuation is mine, from Stott, 118.