The Fury of God’s Wrath Has Subsided
“We were by nature objects of love but because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” Eph. 2: 3-5
Not a Meaningless Death
We’ve been talking about the meaning of his death, in part, to make the point that his was not a meaningless, empty death.
But that instead his death accomplished significant, tangible results that are monumental and universal in scope affecting the entire human race; and these results are evident throughout the long line of generations from the first all the way to the last.
Wow, what a thing to say! What a claim to make. Yet it’s true. Whether we recognize it or not, the death on the cross has brought about monumental results of epic proportions.
His death has literally changed the world and singlehandedly altered the course of human history like no other event has ever done.
So we have considered, thus far, two meanings behind his death, today the third, and next Sunday we will wrap this up with the fourth.
While all of these are known theological doctrines that have been developed over the centuries, in my mind each of these comes down to four images: The scapegoat, the coins, the lightning rod and the kiss.
In his death, he becomes our scapegoat upon whom our sins are loaded. He becomes the coins, or currency, of our redemption from slavery. He becomes the lightning rod that takes upon himself the strike of God’s wrath. And he becomes the kiss, the means whereby we make up and are fully reconciled with God.
The scapegoat, the coins, the lightning rod and the kiss are all symbols of a meaningful death.
Today, a third tangible benefit of his death has to do with the idea that his death fully satisfied the wrath of God that hung over us like a dark cloud. He becomes the lightning rod of God’s grace.
The wrath of God? Yeah, the wrath of God. Funny how in our culture we don’t hear much about the wrath of God unless you are an old school Calvinist conjuring up an image of a blustery, hard nosed deacon who loves to dangle the feet of sinners over the fires of hell, while made to listen to the sermon of an angry preacher on ‘sinners in the hands of an angry God’.
Don’t hear too much hellfire and brimstone preaching these days, do we?
Somehow we have managed to reimagine God into a more benign, serene Santa Claus, grandfatherly type figure; almost the Father Christmas type image instead of the Charleston Heston type of ‘The Ten Commandments’.
So whatever happened to the wrath of God, the angry God of the Old Testament, or the angry God of many other world religions, who demands constant appeasement without ever being fully appeased?
This idea of God never fully appeased seems to be behind the High Priests of the Old Testament having to go back again and again in an attempt to appease what seemed like an angry God.
There is definitely a shift between Old and New Testaments. God seems far more benign and satisfied in the New while not so much in the Old.
It seems that the wrath of God was a constant presence in the Old Testament, brooding darkly over a people. Do you realize that the wrath of God is mentioned a staggering 580 times!
“A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness.” A. W. Pink
One of the more classic passages that seem to outline God’s wrath and anger is Deut. 32:39-42:
“See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. I lift my hand to heaven and solemnly swear: As surely as I live forever, when I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me.”
So what causes God’s wrath? Is he just angry by nature? Far from a grumpy God, you need to realize that there was a reason for the wrath of God; as there still is.
God’s Only Trigger Point
The interesting thing is that God is not a wrathful God by nature in the sense that it is one of his core attributes. Obviously it’s within Him, and thus an attribute of God, but it is not a core attribute.
God does not get up in the morning feeling wrathful or angry. He gets up feeling compassion, love and mercy. He is not an angry God.
So what gives? Where does all that anger and bluster come from?
Let me tell you this: every time God’s wrath is mentioned, it is in conjunction with sin. Every time!
No sin, no wrath; sin, wrath! There’s something about sin that triggers a violent, angry and hurtful response from God.
Folks, it seems that sin is God’s only trigger point. You sin and there is a reaction.
Which means that sin is not to be trifled with nor is it just a character flaw or an ‘oops’, but it's everything that God is not. Sin is anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-Heaven and anti-Holy.
“Certainly the chief characteristic of sin is that it is directed against God. Any definition that fails to reflect this is not a biblical one. The cliché that categorizes sins as against self, against others, or against God fails to emphasize the truth that all sin is ultimately against God.” Charles Ryrie
The Psalmist was right when he wrote:
“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.”
“Let not our word study sidetrack us from remembering how terrible sin is in the sight of God. And sin is so damaging that only the death of God’s Son can take it away” Charles Ryrie
“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” Hab. 1:13
Sin is personal, attacking the very nature of God, which God takes highly personal. As Ryrie said: “His wrath is not simply the inevitable, impersonal result of the working of cause and affect but a personal matter”. A personal matter!
This isn’t a matter of vengeance or getting even but of justice. Sin is so provocative that it demands a response from God; it’s a matter of justice.
So with every act of sin, the wrath of God builds and builds, just like a looming thunderstorm, and you would assume that all this will end badly.
The Lightning Rod
It did end badly, but not in the way you might think.
Even as his wrath was being stored and swelling up into an inevitable outburst of rage that will finish the human race similar to the days of Noah, God was making provision to avert his wrath.
This sounds absolutely absurd; the absurdity of the offended one making provision to avert his own wrath! How absurdly generous is the love of God.
He restrained his justifiable wrath; He holds it back!
“Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath.” Psalm 78:38
“For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; or the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to destroy you completely.
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” Is. 48:9, 11
This doesn’t mean that his justifiable wrath is put away or has dissipated, but what it means is that he remembers how prone to sin we really are and as such has made provision.
Once again, let this sink in: He the righteous, holy and pure God can not only overlook sin but finds every act of sin a personal attack on his very being; but because of his absurdly outrageously gigantic love for us has made provision!
So you say, how did He make provision? With the cross! The cross is how God has appeased his own wrath. Unbelievable!
Which is why John wrote these incredibly important words: “Christ is the one who turns aside God’s wrath, taking away our sin, and not only ours but also the sins of the whole world.” I John 2:2
To which Paul adds:
“We were by nature objects of love but because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” Eph. 2: 3-5
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him?” Romans 5:9
Every time your hear the word ‘atonement’ in the Scriptures, think of appeasement since the idea of appeasing God is also captured in the atonement.
“That he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” Heb. 2:17
“He loved us and send his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
I John 4:10
He has made atonement; the wrath of God has been fully appeased.
Not that it has simply vanished or run its course like an angry wave, but that the full force of his wrath was channeled toward Jesus. He becomes the lightning rod for God’s wrath.
He intentionally and purposefully stepped in to take the wrath of God, which was stored up like gathering storm clouds with every sin committed.
Becoming more ominous and menacing, just waiting to be unleashed, until Jesus came and took upon Himself all the sins committed, from the first sin of Adam to the last sin.
At that moment – at the height of his passion – when he cried out, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” it was as though all the fury and the wrath of God saved up was unleashed in a single stroke directed intentionally toward Jesus who hung on the cross.
While the Old Testament brooded on God’s wrath without an outlet, the New Testament finds an out in Christ. He becomes the focus of the wrath of God and at his death its full fury is unleashed in an incredible lightning strike
“The cross is the lightning rod of grace that short-circuits God’s wrath to Christ so that only the light His love remains for believers.” A.W. Tozer
What an incredible imagery this suggests. Jesus offers to draw the wrath of God upon himself – He becomes the lightning rod of grace that short-circuits or directs God’s wrath toward himself!
Lest anyone be tempted to think that somehow the Father made the Son of God to be that lightning rod or that the Jesus was forced to do this, it was by his own free volition that Jesus did this and his only motivation was his love for Adam’s race.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” I John 3:16
When he cried out :“It is finished”, the wrath of God was spent. And thus his wrath becomes spent and appeased, or in the words of A.W. Tozer: “So that only the light His love remains for believers”.
How Lavish the Love of God!
Again, please understand who was offended by whom and who it was that initiated appeasement.
Does it not occur to you as outrageous and ludicrous that the offended one would initiate appeasement? How outrageously lavish is God’s amazing love!
It goes even further. Not only did God initiate appeasement looking for someone to blame but also He offers up His Son as the one to be blamed, innocent though He was.
Not only is Jesus the scapegoat who carries away our sin; not only is Jesus the currency that purchased our redemption; but Jesus is also the lightning rod who fully satisfies the justifiable wrath of God.
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” I John 4:11
Should We be Afraid, Very Afraid?
No doubt you have heard the phrase, “Be afraid, be very afraid!” which has crept into modern culture ever since Cronenberg’s movie The Fly. The phrase is a warning that something ominous or dangerous is imminent.
So with all this talk on the wrath of God, should we be afraid, very afraid?
After all, doesn’t the very last book of the Bible talk about the bowls of God’s wrath stored up to be poured upon the earth in future years?
“Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.” Rev. 16:1
So should we be afraid, very afraid? Yes and no.
The answer is determined by whether Jesus has become your personal lightning rod. Yes, the wrath of God has to do with your sin, and it is upfront and personal. It’s as simple as that.
The solution is so simple that a child can do it, which is the idea:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Eph. 2:8
“If because of the death of Christ God is satisfied, then what can we do to try to satisfy God? The answer is nothing. Everything has been done by God Himself. We can and need only receive the gift of righteousness God offers.” Charles Ryrie
If you have made Jesus your lightning rod and are living in the reality of what that means, then none of his wrath will ever come near you. The bowls of wrath Revelation talks about are for those who have turned down God’s gracious offer of salvation.
The vast majority of us are not among them. In fact, none of us need to among them since heaven wants nothing more than for Jesus to be your lightning rod.
The goat, the coins and the rod; these are the symbols of what Jesus accomplished on the cross:
The scapegoat that takes away your sin into the wilderness of God’s forgetfulness, never to be remembered again.
The coins of blood that paid for your redemption, releasing you from the spiritual bondage as one of Satan’s slaves.
The lightning rod of God that took the full furry of His wrath so that only the light of his love remains directed toward you.
All these are wrapped up in the Cross, and these are what are offered to you.
Heaven’s Buy Out
“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 8:24-25
It is amazing all that was accomplished by his death and resurrection.
Amazing how a singular life could affect so much, so that generations later this world continues to be greatly impacted by a singular life!
All because of the life he lived, the kind of death he died and most importantly of all, the resurrection he experienced on the third day.
It was indeed his death and resurrection that made his life so unique. Not the manner in which he died nor the fact of his resurrection alone but more significantly the meaning, purpose and accomplishments behind both death and resurrection.
Such is what we outlined last Sunday in terms of how in his death he literally became our substitution; that in his death he took on our sins and paid the penalty. Place for place, death for death; Jesus our scapegoat!
What a reason to remember his passing and resurrection!
But now, add into the mix of substitution, the idea of redemption and you have an offer you cannot resist.
Not only is he your substitution and dying in your place but also through his death and resurrection he completely and utterly redeemed you.
More than once the Scriptures say that you have been redeemed. It is a very familiar word in Christian circles, and if you have been around long enough you will no doubt have come across it.
Every time you hear that word in the Scriptures you can assume that it is somehow a connection back to his death and resurrection.
Peter says: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” I Peter 1:18-19
Did you notice how the scapegoat image comes up again in this passage? Not only was Jesus the Lamb of God without blemish who took our sins into the wilderness of God’s forgetfulness to be remembered no more, but also the blood of this Lamb also redeemed you.
SLAVES THEN, SLAVES NOW!
So what does it mean to be redeemed? His death and resurrection are the currencies for our redemption.
Every time there is a redemption of some sort, it involves currency; we know that from history, and we still see it in some places today.
You ask what it means to be redeemed and I say go ask any former slave what that means. Ask a boy soldier, ask a girl prostitute, ask a kid who is traded around in sweat shops; ask any child slave that’s been set free what it means to be redeemed and you quickly get a pretty good idea.
Prior to Emancipation in the US and the former British colonies, slaves had to be purchased out of slavery and could not just walk away. You couldn’t just open a door or a hatch and off you went. Slaves had to be redeemed, purchased out of slavery.
Even today, with modern day slavery usually involving children, you cannot simply walk in and set them free but instead you need to pay for their freedom, purchase their redemption and redeem them with hard currency. Redemption always involves currency of some sort.
In many cases these are legal chattels or properties owned by someone and to simply open a hatch and release a slave would be akin to theft.
I know how absurd this sounds to us. We are fortunate to be in a free society where autonomy, individuality and self-determination are hallmarks of our way of life.
But there are places even today where there is a cost to freedom. Until slaves were legally set free, they could no more simply walk away from their slave owners as chattel belonging to us today can simply vanish.
Just for the record, slaves were declared free in the former British colonies by an act of British Parliament called the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833 with Emancipation Day celebrated on the first Monday in August (even here in Ontario). In the US it was the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln in 1863 that declared all people there to be free.
Of course, I realize this is Easter Sunday and not Emancipation Day, and this is not about the evils of slavery. But then again maybe this is about our slavery after all and maybe Easter Sunday is our Emancipation Day!
Think about it for a moment.
Doesn’t there exist a type of slavery in the world that is far more profound than anything perpetrated by humanity on humanity? As despicable as human slavery of any sort was and is, there was and is a far more profound slavery that is even more despicable.
How interesting that the Bible positions the human condition in the language of spiritual slavery. The Scripture outlines we were as much a slave as any slave that’s ever been; in fact, our slavery was far, far worse.
For our chains were not the chains of men belonging to a human taskmaster, dictator or tyrant, but instead our chains were the chains of sin.
We were held slave to sin with our wicked taskmaster none other than Satan himself.
Jesus was very clear on this. When told by others in his day, “We’re Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves to anyone”, his only response was: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” John 8:34.
You need to realize that sin is never just sin, but that behind every act of sin stands Satan who is in fact taskmaster, slave owner and spiritual tyrant; which is why Paul talks about “the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” II Tim. 2:26
Every time you sin it reminds you of the chains; you hear them rattling in the background.
That is what we were. We were slaves to sin, in spiritual bondage, owned by the Devil himself with no choice about it.
Without giving him too much due, you need to realize that Satan is the prince of this world. Twice Jesus refers to him as the prince of this world in John’s Gospel and Paul calls him the god of this age who keeps his slaves blind to the light of the gospel of freedom:
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” II Cor. 4:3-4
This wasn’t always so. Prior to the fall of man, the first couple were the princes over all of creation and destined to absolute greatness, all of which was lost and legally handed over to Satan when they bit into Satan’s sins.
From then on, all princely authority including personal freedom was lost to Satan, who since then has been the prince with humanity as his captive.
When Jesus indicated how Satan would be defeated he called him the prince of this world:
“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” John 12:31-33
So even today, as prince, though defeated, Satan still remains prince and until people turn their chained hearts over to Jesus, the liberator, they remain under his rule.
JESUS OUR LIBERATOR
Which brings me now to Jesus! This is why Jesus came into this world. His singular mission was to release captives and set prisoners free. His manifesto makes this crystal clear:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18, 19
While he went on from there doing precisely that among all those he came across, it wasn’t until his death and resurrection that he offered amnesty and liberty from chains for all on a wholesale basis.
I love the clarity that the book of Hebrews brings to this:
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of 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. For surely it is
not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.” Heb. 2:14-16
True to his word, upon his death and resurrection spiritual prisoners the world over begin to be released; for all those who turn their chained hearts toward Jesus report the same sense of freedom.
Among them was a man by the name of Saul who, upon his encounter with Jesus, became so incredibly liberated that he even changed his name to Paul. It was Paul who would eventually capture in words the most heartfelt description of what life in slavery was like and what sweet release felt like for him:
“I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Rom. 7:14-20, 24-25, 8:1-2
This has been multiplied millions of times over. Slaves set free, chains of sins falling away, prison doors slammed opened, and slaves streaming out as free beings.
To this day, those who turn to Jesus Christ, raising their captive hands toward him with fettered chains, will experience chains falling away and a life of liberty, freedom and joy!
All of that because of what Jesus accomplished by his death and resurrection. As he himself said that he came: “to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mk. 10:45
CURRENCY OF LIBERATION
As mentioned earlier, the currency of our liberation was not gold nor silver or a modern day currency equivalency but with none other than the precious blood of Jesus:
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ.”
I Peter 1:18, 19
You ask why not gold and silver? Surely heaven’s gold and silver is not perishable; why his life, why his blood?
Why not calculate the value of a human life in a currency and pay it that way? Why his life? Why did Jesus rebuke Peter’s attempt in stopping him from going to his death as the work of the devil?
The answer lies in the fact that the ransom that frees us can be measured neither in dollars, euros or yens nor with silver and gold.
We cannot be bought out in that sense of the word. There can be no dollar value attached to a human life.
You see, it is life for life, an exchange; back to the idea of substitution, where one takes the place of the other.
The wages of sin is death and no amount of gold nor silver will ever cover that.
So Jesus doesn’t offer a ransom payment; he could only offer himself as the ransom – “his life as a ransom for many”. His life for your life; his life for my life. Does that make sense?
He is your ransom! His death and resurrection is the currency of your freedom!
HE IS RISEN!
His life for our life is only part of the story; his resurrection for our resurrection is the other part.
When he rose on the third day, we knew then and there that he had overcome the weight of the world’s sins upon his shoulders and that, far from sin overwhelming him and casting us back into our own state of misery, he overcame it, all of it, and rose on the third day in great triumph.
I love Paul’s imagery when he wrote: “When he ascended on high he led captives in his train.” Eph. 4:8
Who were these captives if not those through the ages who have given their chained hearts to him which He has set free! You can almost the see the great procession of the freed, the redeemed, former slaves shouting joy and living triumphant lives.
It was actually his resurrection that justified every claim he ever made including the mother-claim of all, namely that he would take our chains upon him and set us free.
“He was delivered over to death for our sins.” (Rom. 4:25) That much we know; but notice what it says next: “and was raised to life for our justification.” (Rom. 4:25)
His resurrection justifies and validates everything. It validates his claim that he has set us free and that we are free indeed; that our chains are fallen off; we are no longer captives to sin!
We have been emancipated. Satan is no longer the prince who rules us. He may rule others but not us. He may be the prince of this world but he is not the prince of this church.
It is no coincidence that this is also the week of Passover, during which our Jewish friends celebrate how their angel of death passed over the homes of all those who had the doorposts of their homes sprinkled with the blood of a Lamb. What amazing symbolism pointing to the mark of the freed homes!
If, on the doorpost of your heart is sprinkled the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, then this word’s angel of death will pass over you!
I am here to tell you that the prince of this world will pass over you, will leave you alone so long as you have applied richly the blood of the Lamb on the doorposts of your heart.
Your ability to do that is directly tied into the reality of the resurrection. Paul said: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins.” I Cor. 15:17
His resurrection sets the captives free, releases the prisoners and makes slave of us no more!
Which is why Romans 10:9 ties being saved from that life directly into the fact of the resurrection: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘ Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
All of that; believing it in your heart, confessing it with your mouth and him being raised from the dead, will result in you being saved from a life of bondage.
Are you ready for a life of liberty and freedom?
Bridge over Troubled Waters: God’s Scapegoat
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
His Legacy Lingers!
How amazing that someone who lived so long ago would continue to have the kind of impact and influence that Jesus has to this day.
Who would have thought that someone who lived so long ago would still shape the thinking of modern people?
Most great men of history fade away with history, seldom to be remembered. But not this man; to this day we feel his impact.
Which brings me to the ‘why’ question: Why does he continue to stand out to this day? Why didn’t he quietly pass into the annals of history with the rest of the other great ones? What is it about him?
The answer that I suggest lies in his death, which seems bizarre at first glance, but only makes sense upon further reflection.
I realize that this may be difficult to believe since most people’s deaths have no lasting impact, certainly not for generations to come. We certainly will remember our own death when it comes, and most likely remember the death of our parents, and perhaps even grandparents; but for most of us that is where this runs its course.
But not so with Christ’s death. His death is remembered the world over and commemorated often and reflected on frequently.
In fact, here is the kicker: If it wouldn’t have been for his death, he too would have passed into the annals of history with barely a footnote.
It was his death that makes his memory and legacy so vivid the world over.
When we speak of his death, it was not in the manner in which he died (for many have died in the manner in which he did) but for the reasons, purposes and, most importantly, the accomplishments achieved in his death, that make his death so unique and lie at the core of why he is remembered the world over.
His death directly addressed humanity’s biggest problem in life; namely, this profound sense of ‘lostness’, doom and despair that hangs over people; this bent toward evil, given the right circumstances, and the hopelessness that permeates so much of life.
All of it and so much more, finding its roots in the sinfulness of humanity as Paul says in Romans: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Rom. 3:23
Most, of course, don’t realize this and don’t even see it anymore.
In fact, if that is the only life you have ever known you can get used to it pretty quickly and think that is just how life is and that all this is normal.
In this ‘new normal’, humanity is in a continued state of separation from God and actually at enmity with God.
His death directly addresses this reality. John is very clear in making this link when he wrote, “He was manifested to take away our sin.”
I Jn. 3:5
Jesus, our Vicar
His death was much more than just an act of injustice and certainly not defeat nor failure. His death brought about concrete accomplishments and tangible benefits, including this idea of substitution.
That’s right, substitution. Just like you would go back to the store and exchange a broken thing with one that is not broken. Substitution.
On a cosmic level, his death served the purpose of substitution. There is a plethora of scriptural references that point to this:
“By the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Heb. 2:9
“Christ was sacrificed once, to take away the sins of many people.”
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” I Peter 2:24
“Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” I Peter 3:18
All these hint at this same idea; namely that Jesus acted as a substitute for us and suffered what should have been the consequences of our sins.
“Man could atone for his sin personally only if he could suffer eternally the penalty that sin incurred. Man, of course, could never do this, so in his love and compassion, God stepped into a hopeless situation and provided a Vicar in Jesus Christ who did provide an eternal satisfaction for sin.” Charles Ryrie
While the language is a little archaic, I love the word “vicar” to describe this cosmic substitution.
What a quaint little term ‘vicar’ is. It conjures up images of a quaint Anglican vicar having afternoon tea with one of his elderly female parishioners, doesn’t it?
Hate to burst that bubble, but a vicar is far from a dithering British priest; a vicar is actually someone who steps in for someone else, someone who in essence becomes a substitute:
“A vicar (/ˈvɪkər/; Latin: vicarius) is a representative, deputy or substitute; anyone acting "in the person of" or agent for a superior (compare "vicarious" in the sense of "at second hand")” Wikipedia
I find it rather fascinating that a vicar acts as “an agent for a superior”; that the lesser stands in the gap for the greater. When I first saw that I wanted to take it out, since when is Jesus the lesser and we the greater?
But, on second thought, it makes sense – as uncomfortable as this makes me – because no one is going to send their superior to stand in, fill in or be a substitute. It is always going to be the servant who takes the place of the master.
Which makes this so remarkable. Jesus, our vicar and substitute, not only takes our place and thus his death is our death, but he does so as our servant.
I know we cringe at how counterintuitive this is, since we should be his servants doing his bidding; but when it comes to being our substitute he actually becomes our servant and, as a servant of man, carries our sin away.
Just like Peter, we want to stop Jesus from washing our feet; but in his role as vicar, we must let him be the servant-substitute.
Does the Scripture not tell us: “He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” Phil. 2:7, 8
So in that role of vicar or substitution, he acts as our servant. Has greater love ever been seen than this?
When it comes to substitution, we need to realize that it literally means substitution! You need to see this literally. He substituted for us; he took our place. One was exchanged for the other.
This idea of substitution is mentioned over 20 times in the New Testament, and every single time it’s about two objects side by side where the one is substituted for the other.
Let me give you a couple of quick examples from the Scriptures of this:
“When Joseph heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.” Matt. 2:22
This means, Archelaus literally took over the throne from his father. That is substitution!
Another example is the bizarre story of Peter catching a fish with a coin in its mouth so as to pay a temple tax (“Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” Matt. 17:27) where the money is used in exchange of a debt owed. That is substitution.
So this idea of one thing literally exchanged for another is applied to Christ’s death. His death covered fully our penalty (it’s the coin that pays it in full). His death was in place of our own death (it’s Archelaus taking the place of Herod).
This is precisely what Jesus meant when he said: “The Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mk 10:45.
At the cross we exchanged places. We were on that cross, and we were guilty with sin; we were to pay the penalty for our own sin and what does he do but say to us: “Let me give my life as a ransom for many.”
This means one in place of the other, literally, completely and in its entirety.
In this matter, there can be no subtle alternatives, no other variations nor any other interpretations. Nothing can distort the image of the substitute.
Our Day in Court!
There are those who would suggest subtle adjustments to this; those who would say to us that his death was on behalf of us or was for our sake and benefit.
While all that may be true, it does not go far enough to capture what actually took place.
So let’s introduce a different scene. You are in a courtroom. You are charged with crimes against God. Your sins have brought great accusations against you and it is your day in court. What happens next?
There are those who suggest an alternative idea of Jesus as our legal council who represented us in a court of law and managed to exonerate us by his brilliant arguments. Jesus the superhero, the super lawyer!
What’s the problem with that, you say? Isn’t that what it was? I was accused and guilty of sin; I needed a lawyer and He became that. How is that a problem? He gets me off – isn’t that all that matters?
The problem is that he, at best, only represents you and speaks on behalf of you in God’s court; he never steps into your shoes. He remains the lawyer, and you remain the criminal who got away with it. Even though, through his brilliant arguments, he gets you off, he remains the lawyer and you the exonerated criminal.
Let me suggest an alternative image to one I just painted, one closer to the truth.
You are still in court and it is still your day. You are still as guilty as sin of the charges. You know you are a sinner; you know that you have violated God’s laws.
As you brace for the well-deserved sentence, Jesus enters the courtroom and says to the judge that he will take the place of the accused. He is not there to represent you nor to argue your case, but to be your substitute.
It’s not a prisoner box nor a debtor’s prison, but a cross. He tells you to get off the cross so that he can take your place on it.
When he dies, the debt is paid in full. Not his debt, not anyone’s debt but your debt. Paid in full. By Him because he took your place.
In many ways, in fact in every way, he becomes your scapegoat! He gets blamed, he takes the heat, he becomes the fall guy, and he is led to judgment guilty, while you walk away exonerated. He becomes your scapegoat.
You have heard of this idea of the scapegoat? In fact, some of you might have even found yourself in the shoes of a scapegoat. You got blamed for something you didn’t do or you took the heat, covering up for someone else. Some of you know what I am talking about; you have been there.
The interesting thing about the concept of the scapegoat is that it finds its origin in ancient Hebrew history.
The scapegoat finds its origin in this idea of an innocent goat over which the sins of the ancient Israelites were confessed and thus transferred.
This substitute was then released into the desert, presumably to die there as guilty as sin.
Let me read to you the story of the scapegoat from Lev. 16
“From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
Aaron is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.
When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.” Lev. 16:5, 8-10, 20-22
While in the early years of this practice the animal would simply be released into a remote place never to be seen or heard of again, there was enough fear of the possibility of that goat wandering back that in later years the beast was taken not only into a remote desert but led up a mountain and thrown off the edge to its death:
“The man in whose charge the goat was sent out, while setting him free, was instructed to push the unhappy beast down the slope of the mountain side, which was so steep as to insure the death of the goat, whose bones were broken by the fall." (Twenty-one Years' Work in the Holy Land).
A Vigorous Confession!
This scapegoat became the only hope the people had that their misdeeds and sins would be carried away, and that, in some great cosmic way, the reset button would be pushed on their Day of Atonement. They could start over again with a clean slate.
This is why the language structure is such, that great passion and vigor was used in confessing the sins over the poor scapegoat.
“Aaron is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head.” Lev. 16:21
Hands were laid vigorously on the poor animal: “It was done with one’s whole force; as it were, to lay one’s whole weight upon the substitute.” Alfred Edersheim
There was nothing shy about this. With great passion, and with his whole weight and force, the priest would confess and transfer all their sins upon this animal. It was then led away to its death, to the shouts of jubilation from those who knew that this animal somehow carried away their sin once and for all.
Of course, throughout it all, there was a sense that this was happening in light of a Lamb of God that would one day come to accomplish in reality what these animals symbolically were achieving.
From Symbolism to Fact!
Fast forward to a day about 2000 years ago when Jesus appears in his public role for the first time and a great prophet of the day, John the Baptist, shouts out these infamous words: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Jn. 1:29
He could have said ‘forgives the sin of the world’ or ‘atones for the sin of the world’, but instead says ‘takes away the sin of the world’. In that moment, the connection between symbolism or foreshadowing and reality was made.
Jesus is, in actuality, the Lamb of God who would take away or carry away into the desert of his own death the sin of the world including yours and mine.
And when Jesus died on the cross, it moved from mere symbolism of hope to the reality of fact.
I love the clarity the Letter to the Hebrews brings to this:
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.
First Jesus said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Heb. 10:1, 8-10
We have been made holy. Our sins have been taken away. He has taken our guilt and we stand before God, his angels, the devil and his demons, exonerated and declared innocent of all charges.
“Jesus appeared so that he might take away our sins.” I Jn. 3:5
Confess Your Sins!
On this Palm Sunday, everything about this day points to that. The fact that he rode on a lowly colt points to the lowly vicar; the fact that he was determined to make his way to the Cross was the journey of the scapegoat to his own death. The shouts of the Hosanna’s, which literally mean ‘save us’, adds to the drama of the moment.
Yet none of that is realized until you confess or speak your sins over the head of the scapegoat, my friend. While the offer is for all, it is an offer that needs to be taken up by you!
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I Jn. 1:9
Not halfheartedly, not casually nor as an afterthought but as though your life depends on it, which it does! Doing it in the spirit of Edersheim: “It was done with one’s whole force; as it were, to lay one’s whole weight upon the substitute.”
Lay the whole weight of your sin upon the substitute, Jesus Christ!
Your life, your eternity, your destiny depends on this! Make him your Lamb of God, who takes away your sins into the sea of God’s forgetfulness, to be remembered no more.
The People of the Quilts
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
Comfort That Quilts Bring
These quilts are not only amazing pieces of artwork and incredible labors of love but also great bringers of comfort.
The first thing that comes to my mind when you think of quilts is the warmth and comfort they will bring to someone in need.
I think of all the people who will be comforted by being wrapped in one of these quilts, made by hands and hearts of faith and love. They are made out of personal histories of deprivation, knowing first hand what it means to lose all and have little in terms of the creature comforts of home.
We all need a blanket, don’t we? A comforter to keep us warm, to reassure us and to provide a measure of protection. Many of us have favorite blankets. May not be the newest one, may not be the fanciest one, but in many ways there is no replacing a favorite comforter.
“A security blanket is something which dispels a sense of anxiety. The term is often used literally, to refer to the blankets and other objects carried by young children. Security blankets are closely related to comfort objects, objects that provide comfort and relief from stress.”
Each of our kids got a blanket when they were born, and I tell you that each wore it well and wore it out.
One of my daughters wore hers down to just a little corner of stitching but there was no way that you could separate the “eckie of the deckie” from her (wouldn’t be surprised if she still has it hidden away somewhere).
Another daughter had blankie-anxiety the night we arrived at our little cottage having forgotten it back home. We could not settle her that night not even with trying to fool her in the dark with a fake one. Dad had to drive all the way back home to pick up the blankie so that she could settle. Yup, these are the stories of our quilts.
So when I see these quilts – these labors of love, these pieces of art – I think of the comfort these will bring to people in crisis all over the world.
Comfort Received, Comfort Given
So what is it about the Mennonites and their quilts? Surely, it is more then just a quaint little tradition that harkens back to the days when there was not much more for people to do during those long cold winters but to sew and stitch by candlelight.
I suspect that it comes out of the sense of suffering and loss so many of the Mennonites have experienced at the hands of evildoers.
This expression of comfort takes on a whole new meaning when it comes from those who themselves have suffered greatly and have known first hand what it means to receive the comfort of God.
In many ways these quilts were stitched by hands that not only knew suffering but, more importantly, knew the comfort of God.
Look at your history. Look at where many of you have come from. What you have had to endure and what you have lost. The stories of loss and suffering are heart wrenching and have defined who you are today.
When you had nothing, God was your comfort. Others such as the beautiful people of MCC may have reached out to you but at the end, God was your comfort!
I trust that the defining aspect of your life, your signature, is not your suffering but how you have experienced the comfort of God in the midst of your suffering.
These quilts are an expression of extending comfort from the very hands that received the comfort of God in the midst of some of life’s cruelest moments.
It is as Paul wrote in II Cor. 3:
“3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”
People of the Comfort Church
We are among the most comfort-giving people on the planet – at least we should be. We ought to be the most welcoming, embracing and giving people in our city. This church ought to be a place where the stranger, newcomer, refuge and immigrant are welcomed with open arms.
These quilts of ours are symbolic of the kind of people that we are. We are a generous people who reach out to all those who need comfort and support.
We are a people that look for reasons to say yes and not no. We err on the side of generosity instead of the side of caution. We are a people whose default answer is always yes and never no.
We are a people who share willingly and gladly and at our table is always room for one more. We are a people who have enough borscht to feed one more hungry soul. We are a people whose cup of borscht runneth over, but is never empty.
We are the people who, like the widow in Elijah’s day, saw that “the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry”.
You know the story, don’t you?
“Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.” I Kings 17:7-17
This widow is us! We are the people of the bread and the quilt. We are the people of the Comfort Church because we ourselves have known what it means not only to have nothing but, more importantly, to have received the comfort of God.
No doubt some of you have experienced some of the same hardships that Paul described in his comfort chapter:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.”
II Cor. 3:8-9
Yet this is not about the sentence of death, that’s not the theme of the chapter; but instead it’s about his deliverance:
“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” II Cor. 3:9-10
The chapter is not even about deliverance but instead about his desire to show comfort to others in need, even as he received comfort at the hands of God and others:
“The God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” II Cor. 3:4
This is at the heart of our quilting ministry. These quilts will absolutely bring comfort to others. These quilts are the symbols of this, the Comfort Church, whose tag line is Comfort Ye My People!
That is what these quilts speak of. They are an expression of our desire to bring comfort to the comfortless and, in doing so, these quilts clothe the Lord Jesus Christ himself!
“’For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Imagine your quilt clothing the Lord Jesus Christ! I want to be on the side of the quilters!
I always want to err on the side of the givers, the feeders and the clothers; the ones of whom the King himself says: “Come you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”
And why extend that invitation, except that our quilts clothed the Lord Jesus Christ himself: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Comfort for the 39ers
We are the people of the Comfort Church; whose table is always set for one more, who share their oil to bake just one more cake, who make up just one more bed and stitch just one more quilt.
We are the people of the Comfort Church; whose tag line is Comfort Ye My People, taken from Isaiah 40, where it says:
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Isa. 40:1, 2
The book of Isaiah is a fascinating book in that it mirrors much of the reality of life in this broken world.
If you have ever read the book, you will notice that there is a definite break two-thirds through the book at Chapter 40.
The first 39 chapters are full of gloom, despair and judgment with suffering as the norm; while chapters 40-66 have a distinctly different tone, one of deliverance, hope and a new life.
The beginning of Chapter 40 finds people in the wretchedness of captivity, the place where hopelessness prevails.
In that place and of those people, God says to the rest of us: “Comfort my people”. In fact, God has been saying “Comfort Ye My People” throughout history.
The first 39 chapters have been with us since the dawn of the ages, ever since Adam & Eve’s sins caused this world to slide into the first 39 chapters.
Much of our world still lives in the reality of the first 39 chapters, with only a few having pushed beyond into the place of comfort, deliverance and hope.
But even there, the shadows of the first 39 chapters still hang around as Paul testified:
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” II Cor. 4:8-9
The first 39 chapters are the result of sin in this world, which is at the root of what Robert Burns, has phrased, ‘man’s inhumanity toward man’.
Most of the misery in our world is man-made, humanity perpetrating inhumane acts upon itself.
Even natural disasters are because this is a fallen world with original sin not only having a devastating effect on humanity, but also on the natural world including the physical environment.
The point is that Isaiah’s first 39 chapters capture life in a cruel world. It is as though, collectively, we are holding our breath.
Then things change at Chapter 40. The tone changes, the mood lifts and the sun appears and all of it starts with the phrase “Comfort Ye My People”!
If the first 30 chapters were a holding of our breath, then chapters 40 onward is like letting out a collective breath or sigh of relief.
That analogy is actually closer to the truth than you might think, since the word ‘comfort’ in the original language is ‘naham’ which means to breathe out deeply.
“The word is nâham, and its root has the idea of breathing deeply. It can therefore mean to breathe deeply as you comfort and console someone.” Rodney Buchanan
If the first 39 chapters was a breathing in of the misery and wretchedness of sin, then the chapters from 40 onward is the great breathing out; the great exhale, as comfort comes to those in captivity and misery.
God’s Everlasting Comfort
So what does God’s comfort look like? Are we talking about the warm ‘fuzzies’ of being snuggled safe and secure in a soft quilt?
The quilts we throw to those in need are meant to point them to a higher comfort that only God provides.
So what does God’s comfort look like? Will He hold them snuggly in his arms and wrap his quilt around them?
It might surprise you what God’s comfort actually provides.
God’s comfort actually provides resilience and toughness not realized before. You see, the word ‘comfort’ carries with it the idea of strength to endure.
“But the idea of comfort comes from the two Latin words: com fortis – literally translated it means “with strength.” God’s way of giving comfort is to give us the strength to do what needs to be done. As his strength comes, grief and sorrow go. The situation may not have changed, but we have a new ability to face it and deal with it.” Buchanan
There is something about a new found strength which is found only as comfort comes your way. You clothe the naked, feed the hungry, still the thirst of the thirsty, and then they will rise up with new found strength to rebuild and carry on.
It is resilience that they would need to return from exile and rebuild out of ashes. This is what they would eventually do. The rest of the story is how they returned from exile and rebuilt the holy city and the temple.
God’s comfort gives you strength to rise up. I love the way the chapter ends:
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Is. 40:29-31
Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. That’s what God’s comfort does. He makes you rise up again. The ultimate survivor!
Many of you had to start out over again, in some cases more than once. The strength and resilience to do that, comes from the comfort you received from God.
God gives us the toughness to survive and thrive.
The other way God brings comfort is by taking care of our enemies:
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.” Is. 40:21-24
Babylon may have looked formidable but no more formidable than Nazi German or Communist Russia, and all three are no more.
Quilts are tough and durable; they last and last. I bet some of the quilts you ladies made 50 years ago are still hanging around somewhere today.
They speak of the durability of ‘the people of the quilt’, who themselves have received the comfort of God.
As Rodney Buchanan wrote,
“We can be living examples of hope. Living sources of comfort. Living proof of the reliability of God’s Word. Living examples of a strength that comes from God. We can mount up with wings like eagles.”
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.