I get inklings.
I don’t claim to have the gift of “prophecy”. I don’t believe I can look into the future and see things that are coming, but sometimes I get inklings, those little hints at what may happen. Maybe we all do.
This past Sunday I had an inkling. I prepared for my adult Sunday school class and while I was preparing a phrase came to me unexpectedly, a phrase that I could not shake. It was the words “help is on the way.” Strange phrase…
Did I need help?
I did not make too much of it until it kept repeating in my mind. I could not shake it. Several times I found myself thinking “help is on the way”.
I travelled to church only to find the church’s tech person in my classroom informing me that the internet was down in the building. That means there would be no video to show to the class. I usually start the class with a short video that sets the tone for the lesson. This morning it was a twelve minute video by pastor Tony Evans.
“Help is on the way” echoes again in my mind.
Our pastor was on the scene and she apologized and suggested that we move to another building. My thirty-six years of teaching told me that was just too much trouble so I said no we would stay… “help is on the way.” Strange thing to say to someone who had no idea what that meant, but I felt strangely confident. I felt something was going to happen that would compensate adequately for the lack of a video.
Then it happened. I began the class and people began to respond to my questions. We were studying Scripture in First John. I could see that the class did not need a twelve minute video. They wanted to talk.
An extremely honest revealing student piped up.
Joe [a name I will use to disguise his identity] stated that he tried to follow God’s ways but he had a boatload of doubt from time to time. He was not sure of God’s ways and he was not sure he was following them. Doubt… Not a word that believers hear very often “in church.” Many come to church with the intent to display their stalwart, righteous attitude. The prevailing mood is “I believe and I have got it all together!” Few want to expose the fact that within those stalwart, righteous people are several who really have doubts.
Then I threw gasoline on the fire. “I have doubts too; I sometimes think that what Jesus Christ did for me with His sacrifice on the cross is just too good to be true. I also think if it was real, that I am not worthy of His sacrifice.”
There you have it.
The effect of reading so much about atonement, propitiation and the self-substitution of Jesus Christ. Too much writing about John Stott’s The Cross of Christ.
Stott has an entire chapter on “The Self-Substitution of God.” That is his wording for what Jesus did on the cross. God sent his Son to earth to redeem sinful man. Jesus is God. Jesus was a man. When Jesus had His years on earth He lived the life of a human being, yet He was God (God-man).
His life and His death served as a bridge between humanity and God. He showed us how to live as He lived His life. He died so that “sin barrier” between man and God could be removed.
God substituted Himself in the process of atonement. He took the punishment that we deserved. He took His own wrath so we would not endure it. Jesus Christ satisfied God’s law by His perfect obedience in His life and then Jesus Christ satisfied God’s justice because of His perfect sacrifice for sin, bearing its penalty in His death.
Stott recounts numerous theologians who struggle with the penal nature of God’s “sin bearing.” Why must God suffer a penalty or punishment? God is perfectly capable of redeeming man without this penalty.
Stott believes Jesus’s sacrifice had to be penal. It was prophesized in the Old Testament. “It is clear from Old Testament usage that to ‘bear sin’ means neither to sympathize with sinners, nor to identify with their pain, nor to express their penitence, nor to be persecuted on account of their sinfulness (as others have argued), nor even to suffer the consequences of sin in personal or social terms, but specifically to endure its penal consequences.”
Suffering a penalty was not an uncommon practice in the Old Testament.
Moses told the Israelites that they had to wander in the desert in order to suffer for their unfaithfulness. Ezekiel was told to lie down and bear the sin of the house of Israel. The annual Day of Atonement was when the Israelite community took two male goats for a sin offering for the community as a whole. One goat was to be sacrificed and its blood sprinkled while the living goat bore the sin. The priest put his hands on the goat’s head and confessed the community’s sins. Then the “sin-filled” goat was turned away into the desert so it would “carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place” [Leviticus 16: 22]. Both goats were sin offerings; both goats are examples of animals that are “bearing sin.”
Stott writes “more spiritually minded Israelites must have realized that an animal cannot be a satisfactory substitute for a human being” . He claims that the Israelite community began to come to grips with the need for a human to sacrifice for human sins. One can see this in the words of Isaiah the prophet in Chapter Fifty-three where we see a “servant” suffering and dying. Many believe Isaiah’s words foretold the coming of Jesus Christ. Eight verses in particular seem to point to the coming of Jesus Christ. “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” . “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” . “That we have gone astray like sheep” . “By His wounds we have been healed” . “Nor was any deceit in His mouth” . “He will bear their iniquities” . He would be led “like a sheep to the slaughter” . He would be “deprived of justice and life” . That makes eight verses out of twelve which refer to Jesus. Stott further asserts that if these are accepted, then “His [Jesus’s] whole public career, from His baptism through His ministry, sufferings and death to His resurrection and ascension, is seen as a fulfillment of the pattern foretold in Isaiah 53”.
Was His sin-bearing sacrifice obvious to Jesus? Did He know that He would have to suffer severe penalty? It would truly seem so as we look at His words in the Last Supper. Jesus declared his blood would be “poured out for many” [Mark 14: 24 and Matthew 26: 28 and echo of Isaiah 53: 12]. It would seem that Jesus applied Isaiah 53 to Himself, that He understood His death as a sin-bearing death. “The Lord would lay on Him the iniquity of us all, that he would thus be numbered with the transgressors, and He would Himself bear their iniquities” [Stott, 147]. The Apostle Paul explains it “The sinless one was made sin for us” which clearly means that Jesus bore the penalty of our sin instead of us and He redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming the curse for us. Elsewhere Paul uses the word “impute.” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5: 19 that “God declined to impute our sins to us, or count them against us. He imputed them to Christ instead”.
In summary, Stott writes “When we review all this Old Testament material (the shedding and sprinkling of blood, the sin offering, the Passover, the meaning of sin-bearing, the scapegoat and Isaiah 53) and consider its New Testament application to the death of Christ, we are obliged to conclude that the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice” .
Where does that leave me and Joe with our doubts?
Stott summarizes his conclusions in Chapter 5 of the Cross of Christ: Christ died for us, Christ died instead of us. Jesus died without sin in substitution for our sins.
Sound too good to be true?
Maybe it does to some; sometimes it does to me.
Sometimes I just don’t feel worthy.
Maybe Joe and I should just relax and accept what God did for us. Man in his sinfulness and separateness cried out for we needed to be reconciled to The Father.
He sent Jesus.
He said to man: “help is on the way.”