The Great Substitution
THE GREAT SUBSTITUTION
Jesus is our high priest, but what kind of priest is this who becomes the sacrifice? Priests OFFER sacrifices—but this priest IS the sacrifice. The priest lays himself on the altar.
You see, Jesus died for sin—but not for his own sin. He had no sin. He was in every sense MADE SIN for us. He became all of our rebellion, all of our lying, all of our cheating, all of our adultery, all of our filth, all of our ugliness. He became all of that on the cross. Otherwise, how could God crucify his Son? . . .
Without substitution the death of Jesus is unintelligible. Unless what we have here is what is being describe in 2 Corinthians 5:21, that he was MADE SIN for us—not that he was made A SINNER for us—but MADE SIN for us, then how else do you explain it? What possible justification could God have for crucifying the innocent unless in substitution he became all that we are in our sin and rebellion in order that, in the mastery and mystery of his grace, in him we might become the very righteousness of God?
And when I think that God, his Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
He goes to the garbage heap for all my garbage. He goes to the cross for all my rebellion, for all my filthy thoughts, all my selfish preoccupation, all my self-aggrandizement.
Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood.
There is no story in all of human history like this. There is no notion in all religions of the world that comes close to touching this. This is imponderable, mysterious, majestic, glorious. This is all about God and the wonder of his grace.
As Jesus face this awesome prospect, he brings his disciples close and says, "My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death."
When the lights come on for the disciples after the resurrection, they realize that in the cross Jesus was substituting himself for us, changing places with us, taking the guilt of our sin to himself, accepting divine judgment that is justly and rightly against us.
In the cross God does two things, which would be otherwise impossible.
First, he pardons those who believe in Christ. Although they have sinned and deserve only condemnation, he pardons sinners. How can a just God pardon sinners? Only because all of our sin was transferred to Christ. This lays the ax at the roots of every religious person's endeavors to make himself acceptable to God by trying harder, attending more, praying more intensely—as if by some mechanism, we might be able to tip the scales in our favor.
God pardons sinners even though they have sinned and sinned and deserve only condemnation. And if he didn't, we would be forever excluded from his presence.
Second, he displays and satisfies his perfect, holy justice by executing the punishment our sins deserve. Without this God would not be true to himself.
Here's the gospel in a phrase. Because Christ died for us, those who trust in him may know that their guilt has been pardoned once and for all.
What will we have to say before the bar of God's judgment? Only one thing. Christ died in my place. That's the gospel.
—Alistair Begg, from "Jesus Our Substitute" a sermon preached at Parkside Church, Chagrin Falls, Ohio, July 13, 2003; as collected and adapted by Nancy Guthrie in JESUS, KEEP ME NEAR THE CROSS: EXPERIENCING THE PASSION AND POWER OF EASTER. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009, pp. 23-25. ISBN 978-1-4335-0181-4. This volume includes chapters by many authors: Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Francis Schaeffer, and a host of others both living and dead. Highly recommended. See www.crossway.org/product/9781433501814.
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Ministries
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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