"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 34

    

     

    

    

Chapter 34: Judgments & the New Testament (2)

- The Judgment of Jesus Christ

  

      

Chapter 34 Contents

34.1 Introduction

34.2 The Human Causes of Jesus' Death

34.3 The Plan of God at the Heart of the Cross

34.4 The Real Reason for the Death of Jesus Christ

34.5 The Outworking

34.6 Conclusions

 

     

34.1 Introduction

 

So we have considered the New Testament (excluding the book of Revelation) taking note of references to judgments in the Gospels, in Acts and in the Epistles and yet t he monumental judgment of the New Testament has to be that of the Son of God himself for that is what happened to Christ.

 

Because this is such an important subject, we will first of all consider what happened to Christ from a purely human perspective and then from a heavenly perspective.

     

        

34.2 The Human Causes of Jesus' Death

 

Within the accounts in the Gospels the following are the human factors that contributed to Jesus' death:

 

The Activity of the Jewish Religious & Secular Leaders

 

We see in what follows the involvement of religious groups – including Pharisees and chief priests, and the secular groups referred to as the ‘elders' and the Sanhedrin (ruling council which comprised religious and secular leaders)

 

a) Early Opposition

     

Without doubt Jesus had been challenging the religious leaders:

i) from the point when he first upset the Temple traders (Jn 2:14-16)

ii) by healing on the Sabbath (Jn 5:16-18)

iii) by getting the crowds to believe he was the Messiah (Jn 7:26-31)

iv) by claiming to be greater than Abraham (Jn 8:52-58)

v) by implying he was God (Jn 10:31-33)

 

Clearly he was a threat and a challenge to their self-centred religiosity and they were also envious of his popular acclaim. (see Mt 27:18 Pilate “knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.”)

 

This was particular acute when he was in Jerusalem and in the later year of his ministry:

 

Lk 9:47,48 Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words

   

b) Building towards a climax

     

Jn 11:46-48 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin . "What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."

  • Behind everything else was the fear that Jesus might provoke an uprising and thus cause the Romans to react harshly and come against the nation, against Jerusalem and against the Temple (which of course did eventually happen in AD70)

 

Jn 11:49,50 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."

  • It is clear that the religious leaders saw that Jesus' death was worth it if it could save the nation.

 

Jn 11:51-53 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life

  • The apostle John, with remarkable insight born of years of contemplating what had gone on, sees this as prophecy about a) what would happen and b) what its effect would be.

 

  • We should also note that the religious leaders manipulated the crowd to put pressure on the procurator to have Jesus executed:

 

Mt 27:20 the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

 

The inactivity of the Roman Political Leader

  

It is sometimes wrongly said that the Jews were responsible for Jesus' death. We all were, Jew AND Gentile. The Gentile part of the human race was represented by the might of Rome in the form of the procurator, Pontius Pilate, and his battle hardened soldiers who, when told to crucify someone, did it without thought.

 

Pilate's guilt was to seek to absolve himself of any blame:

  • Twice he declared he could find nothing wrong with Jesus and yet
  • He gave way to the baying crowd and gave Jesus over to be crucified.
  • He publicly washing his hands (literally) demonstrating the world's opinion of Jesus' death – it's not my fault – but it was and is.

     

       

34.3 The Plan of God at the Heart of the Cross

 

God's Part

  

On the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter under the anointing of the Holy Spirit declared the threefold work of the Father (God) in heaven, presiding over what went on in respect of His Son on earth:

 

Acts 2:22-24

Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. (v.22)

This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge ; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross . (v.23)

But God raised him from the dead , freeing him from the agony of death. (v.24)

i.e.

1. God revealed His Son through the signs and wonders He enabled him to do.

2. But then He “handed him over” – language of handing over a criminal – to be executed

3. He then raised him from the dead to reveal (prove) who he was and affirm that he had done the will of God.

 

Putting God's activity in that way, it is clear that in 1 & 3 the Father is upholding and glorifying and vindicating the Son

  •   by His power in Jesus' ministry before his death, and
  •   by His power used to raise Jesus from the dead (see also Rom 8:11)

 

Yet in 2 He ‘handed him over' to be crucified . It is the reasoning behind that action, that judgment that transformed history and made the New Testament so different from the Old, that stirred heretics in the first century, misunderstanding this, to feel it necessary to invent two different Gods.

 

The crucial words are, “ This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge.”

  

Before the Creation

 

When we start scanning the New Testament for conformation of this, we find a remarkable set of verses covering the wide spectrum of what contributes to our salvation:

    

Jn 17:24 you loved me before the creation of the world

- Jesus with Father in loving relationship BEFORE Creation

 

1 Pet 1:20 He was chosen before the creation of the world

- The Godhead agreed Jesus was the means of salvation BEFORE Creation

 

Eph 1:4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world

- They agreed how we would come, and saw who would come BEFORE Creation

 

Rev 17:8 The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world

- They saw who would not come BEFORE Creation

 

Rev 13:8 the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world

- They agreed Jesus would die BEFORE Creation

 

2 Tim 1:9 This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time

- They agreed God's grace would be given us BEFORE Creation

 

Tit 1:2 eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time

- They agreed thy would give us eternal life BEFORE Creation

 

Note the authors of these verses: John, Peter & Paul, the main and key apostles in the New Testament.

 

We cannot emphasise strongly enough that it was God's plan for Jesus to die on the Cross in our place, a plan formulated even before God brought the world into being. It was no accident of history.

 

i.e. the ‘judgment' was made by Father, Son and Holy Spirit before the world came into being.

       

           

34.4 The Real Reason for the Death of Jesus Christ.

 

Now we have touched on some of these things before earlier in this book, but we need to bring them together here to focus on a dilemma that has caused philosophers and theologians alike to stumble through the centuries. First let's consider some of the things the Bible tells us (as we said very early on n the book everything we say comes out of the Bible).

  

Fundamental Truths in the Bible

    

1. A Perfect Loving God

     

  •   God does no wrong and whatever He does cannot be improved upon AND every expression of His is an expression of love.
  •   When He created the world He gave mankind free will. If man was to truly be man and not a robot, (capable of receiving and giving love) he had to have this free will and yet that also enabled man to act against God and against His design, i.e. to sin, to do wrong.
  •   This was the dilemma in the heart of God before Creation.
  •   The problem was that justice would demand that the wrongs done by mankind (their sins) be punished.

 

2. The Sinless Son of God  

   

  •   The answer to this dilemma is revealed through a picture early in the Old Testament that was applied in New Testament understanding.
  •   In the Old Testament, as part of the Exodus process (see Ex 12), a lamb had to be killed and its blood smeared on the doorposts of the home of the Israelite so that when the destroying angel ‘passed-over' the land killing the first born son of every family in Egypt, and saw the blood, he would ‘pass-over' that home and leave it untouched.
  •   The sacrificial lamb was thus seen as the means or sign for salvation for each home – a life given that another life (the eldest) son could be spared.
  •   The New Testament also reveals Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29,36, Rev 5:6,8,12), our Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7) who stood in to take our death.
  •   The Bible tells us that Jesus was without sin (1 Pet 1:19, Heb 4:15), the only sinless person on earth and thus the only perfect ‘lamb' who could act in that role.

   

3. Justice demands the guilty are dealt with  

        

  •   This ultimately is what is behind all of this.
  •   There is a concept known to all of us called ‘justice' that calls for fairness, for a balancing out of wrongs by either punishment or restitution or restoration.
  •   Justice demands someone is punished for their sins committed, and the Bible declares that Jesus was judged so that we would not be.

      

Again and again the message is there in the New Testament in a variety of forms:

 "For Christ died for sins"   1 Pet 3: 18

Jesus who came “in the likeness of sinful men - to be a sin offering”   Rom 8:3

 And “God made him sin who had no sin” 2 Cor 5:21

 

The Language of Theology

 

Theology uses various words to describe what went on, for example,

 

Propitiation: to appease, to atone, to make up for

e.g. Rom 3:25   God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement to demonstrate his justice

  • Sin MUST be punished for justice to be done.
  • Your sin MUST be punished
  • Your sin WAS punished in Jesus on the Cross
  • Justice has been seen to be done

 

Reconciliation: a bringing together a perfect God with imperfect beings (by means of Jesus' death)

 e.g. Rom 5:10

  • God is reconciled to man (we were his enemies)   
  • God had been affronted by our sin   
  • Now that sin has been dealt with God is now free to come to us  and receive us to Himself 

 e.g. 2 Cor 5:19,20  we are reconciled to God, the way is now open, we may now come back to God

 

Redemption: to buy back something, in this case lost sinners on death row.

Acts 20:28   bought with Jesus' blood  (also 1 Cor 6:20 ) 

  • we therefore belong to him
  • Mt 20:28  Jesus ransomed us from Satan's dominion
  • we have been set free from sin & death

 

Justification: to be put right in the eyes of the Law, just as if it had not happened

Acts 13:39 Jesus, taking our sin, did what the Law could not do, justify us.

Rom 3:24 Jesus act of atonement justifies us.

 

Essentially we are reconciled to God, we are redeemed, we are justified because Jesus Christ was judged before the foundation of the world and agreed to take our sin, our guilt and our punishment.

 

Rarely do we speak about it in such terms but Jesus dying on the Cross was an act of judgment. If it was anything less then there is no way that any human being can stand, with the awareness of being a sinner, before the claims of justice.

 

A Courtroom Picture

   

Perhaps because these things are so difficult for the human mind to comprehend (because we are all tainted by sin), let's try and give a picture from a courtroom:

 

Example: A man has been caught with a smouldering gun in his hand before his dying wife and he confesses to the police, “I could not stop myself, I was so angry with her.” As he stands in the dock in the courtroom all of his body language speaks of guilt. He is guilty, he feels guilty and the world knows he is guilty and as he stands there he exudes guilt. It's like he is clothed in guilt and the law demands that a guilty person be punished.

 

Now imagine Jesus Christ standing before Pontius Pilate. He stands there in perfect righteousness, for the New Testament tells us he was sinless. He never thought, said or did a wrong thing. He was, and is, the perfect Son of God. He is the only person who could stand in a courtroom and be free from guilt.

 

Now imagine your sin, small on just one day but massive when you add up every wrong thought, every wrong attitude, every wrong word, every wrong action, of yours since you were born, added up and written on a large white wall. The small writing fills every square inch of the wall; it is a wall that displays your guilt. But then we see that in fact the writing is in fact on a large white cloth that covers the wall. We display it like that in this way in this illustration because we are so blinded by Sin that we fail to see our guilt.

 

Now imagine this massive sheet is lifted off the wall and hung around your shoulders like a robe and you are made to stand in the dock wearing it. The judge, who is God and who knows all things, asks you, “Does this robe truly represent your life? Is this how you have been throughout your life?” Truth demands you reply with honesty with a single word: “Yes.”

 

Before the judge has the time to speak another word to pronounce judgment on you, another figure slips into the dock, takes the ‘robe' from around your shoulders, puts it on his own, and quickly ushers you out of the dock and then stands there facing the judge. It is Jesus Christ who now wears your guilt.

 

The Judge, who knows all things, asks the one in the dock, “Do you take responsibility for all these wrongs you carry? Are they yours? Will you take the punishment for them?” The reply comes clearly from the Son of God in the dock, “I do, they are, and I will.” The Judge pauses and then responds, “Then I sentence you with the only judgment that is open to me, and that is your death,” and the condemned man is led away to be crucified. That is essentially what happened on Good Friday, although it had been decided upon before the world ever came into being.

 

This is the testimony of the New Testament:

 

Isa 53:6 the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isa 53:12 he bore the sin of many

Jn 1:29 Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world

2 Cor 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us

Gal 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree

Heb 9:28 Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people

1 Pet 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree

     

        

34.5 The Outworking

 

How it works

  

The only inadequacy of this picture above, I believe, is that I have shown just one man in the dock. The truth is that every person in the entire world stands in the dock before God and carries their guilt.

 

The ones who are dismissed from the dock and declared free are ones who declare, “I am guilty,” and who then allow Jesus Christ to draw alongside them and take their guilt off so he may carry it.

 

Those who refuse to acknowledge their guilt and who consequently refuse to let Jesus take their guilt, remain in the dock and receive the condemnation and the sentence of death that justice demands.

 

There is nothing unkind or harsh about God in His capacity as a Judge here, for Father and Son have done all they can to ensure justice is done while guilty sinners are freed. Those who refuse to accept their guilt and refuse to accept Jesus, choose their own outcome; it is their choice alone.

 

Although we may struggle to understand it (because as the apostle Paul put it, Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” – 1 Cor 1:22,23) this is the truth the Bible declares.

  

Don't Minimise the Cross

    

With our short-sightedness we might think, “Well, Jesus was the almighty Son of God and so he knew that he would go through death and come out the other side so it wasn't much of a ‘punishment' was it, it wasn't much of a judgment!”

 

There are two aspects of the relationship between the Father and the Son that answer that. They are:  

•  the goodness of God and

•  the wonder of the relationship between the Father and the Son.

  

1. The Goodness of God 

  

it is perhaps almost impossible for us to comprehend what it is to be perfect and free from sin and then have the world's sin put upon us as we saw in the verses above.

 

Imagine you are someone who takes delight in wearing spotless clothes that are perfect and then a visitor spills blackcurrant juice down you. Or maybe you are a furniture maker and you create a perfect period chair with beautiful tapestry seat and covers and again your visitor spills red wine all over it.

 

These are very inadequate pictures but they may help point us in the right direction. God AND Jesus are perfect in every way and utterly free from any moral imperfections and then one day Jesus has to wear (to use our picture analogy above) a ‘robe' covered with your sin and every one else's sin.

 

To use another awful analogy, suppose you are someone, let's say a lady, who has just got ready for a wedding, and you have showered and smell beautiful and put on the most beautiful new clothes and are perfect, but in comes a drunken guest who is still hung over from last night's bad stag party and as he stands in front of you he is violently sick all over you. The stench and the contents of what is all over you is vile.

 

Now are you may be catching a little something of what it must have been like for Jesus, the spotless Son of God, who came from a perfect existence in heaven, not only to have lived in this imperfect fallen world for some thirty years, but now he is covered with your sin and my sin and a horrible sense of guilt that accompanies it. Tell me this isn't a real punishment and I will tell you that you don't understand a glimmer of what it was to have been perfect but now covered with Sin.

    

2. The wonder of the relationship between the Father and the Son

     

The Father and the Son have lived in heaven in perfect unity since before the Creation of the world. John's Gospel shows us that Jesus existed in heaven as the unique Son of God before he came to earth in human form. They have lived in total harmony since the point where the Son was begotten of the Father (begotten means ‘comes out of' as in the early creeds).

 

We really struggle with what the Incarnation means, that the unique Son of God who had lived in eternity with the Father is able to leave heaven and dwell in limited human form for some thirty three years on earth and yet remain God, but the Bible tells us that that is what happened. That was the first division of the Son from the Father, yet united by the Holy Spirit.

 

But then something happens on the Cross as Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree. Suddenly on the Cross the Son cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” (Mt 27:46). Now many years ago I was preparing for a youth service and was producing a visual to try and convey something of what those verses above meant and so I had two pictures of Jesus hanging on the Cross but on the second picture I took a black marker pen and scribbled all over the picture of him on the Cross so that you could hardly make out the figure there as I sought to convey God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, and I saw something.

 

It was like, as the sin of the world was put upon Jesus, it covered him and was so terrible (beyond our imagination) that it was like it covered him and for that time on the Cross, as that happened it was like it was so terrible that the ‘human' Son of God could not see through it and it felt like he was alone and for the first time in his history he could not sense the presence of the Father because he was so overwhelmed by this awful presence of the world's Sin and so the cry is the cry of what he felt at that moment.

 

Yes, the father was there but perhaps He too struggled to see through the awfulness of the world's Sin that covered His Son. For the first time in their history the Father and Son felt apart, felt divided and it was the Sin of the world that did it. This was the terrible cost of allowing mankind free will from the beginning, free will that led to sin, which led to justice crying out to be appeased. That was the second division of the Father from the Son.

 

But then we move into even more unclear territory because there is just a hint in that Jesus descended into hell – “He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago.” (1 Pet 3:18-20). It makes sense that if he was to take the full impact of our punishment then he would also go to hell to experience it there. As I said, we move into unclear territory but if this was so, then that would be the third ‘division' or ‘separation' of the Father and Son.

    

3. Our Response

       

How we respond to these things indicates just where we are in respect of God's salvation. The apostle Paul wrote, For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18) If these things seem foolishness to you, you are far from Him, but if you can say, “Yes, I can see it!” then you are close to receiving His salvation or have already received it.

    

         

34.6 Conclusions

 

In this chapter I have sought to convey what happened to Jesus Christ in what I have termed his judgment on our behalf. We saw the human causes for his death and then we went on to see the spiritual causes, the causes worked out in heaven before the creation of the world but then worked out on earth just two thousand years ago.

 

We saw God's perfection and our sinfulness and the chasm between us and we saw how Jesus came, using a courtroom analogy, and took our sins and guilt upon himself as he took our punishment on the Cross. In doing that we caught something of the awfulness, first of all, of the spotless Son of God taking the Sin of the world on himself on the Cross, and then of the division that this caused between Father and Son, a division first as he left heaven to live in human form for thirty three years of our time, then the division as he took our Sin on himself which came between him and his Father, and then the division as he went to hell to carry our guilt there, before being raised to life (in the resurrection) and then raised back to his former glory in heaven (in the ascension).

 

All of this is what was involved when the Son took the ultimate judgment of God on the Cross as, in Isaiah's words, the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all and he took it for us. Thus are fulfilled what are possibly the best known verses of the New Testament: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16,17)

 

This judgment of the righteous for the unrighteous, the perfect for the imperfect, is without doubt the most amazing thing in all history. How we respond to it reveals our state before God.

 

 

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