A Meditation on the Cross (Matthew 27): How Penal Substitution, Christus Victor, and Christ’s Moral Example Lead Us to Preach the Cross, Resist the Devil, and Imitate the Lord

crossWhen the Spirit led Jesus into the Wilderness, Satan tempted him three times. He questioned the authenticity of Jesus’ Sonship, tempting him to prove his power and his place as God’s Son. In perfect obedience to God and his Word, Jesus did not assert himself, but trusted that his earthly mission was one of absolute humiliation leading to honor, not a powerplay to gain honor for himself.

On the cross, the fury of Satan’s accusations returned, only it came not in the voice of the Serpent but in a salvo of accusations launched at Jesus while nailed to a tree. Physically speaking, no form of punishment has ever been more de-humanizing. Still, for all the physical a pain delivered in crucifixion, it was the Spiritual abandonment that was the greatest punishment. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was the cry of a man who had never known sin or the judgment of God’s abandonment. Moreover, in identifying himself with his sinful people, Jesus assumed in his flesh the fullness of their sin, which in turn invited the fullness of God’s wrath. He drank the cup, until the fury of God was extinguished.

And this is not all, the crucifixion, as Matthew describes it, is neither a testimony to the pain of crucifixion, as Mel Gibson sought to frame it in his movie The Passion of the Christ. Nor does Matthew ponder the horrible realities of God’s spiritual judgment. Rather, he records a bevy of Satanic accusations offered by Roman soldiers, Jewish leaders, nameless spectators, and the convicted criminals bleeding next to Jesus. After describing the mockery of Herod’s soliders (27:27–31), Matthew recounts the acts (vv. 32–37) and speeches (vv. 37–44) which Satan hurled at Jesus as died on the tree.

For us who find life in Jesus’ death, seeing Jesus’ humiliation teaches us what our sin deserves and what great lengths Jesus went to save us. At the same time, because Christ’s cross is exemplary for those who trust in his penal substitution, there is profit in seeing Satan’s accusations, that we might recognize the tempters accusations and continue to carry with faith the cross God gives to us. With this in mind, let’s consider Christ’s example of humiliation, that we might follow in his steps, by trusting in his substitutionary death, and his victory over Satan. Continue reading

Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as a Royal Victory Palace

A Royal Palace

Finally, the tabernacle is a royal palace, built with the materials plundered from the defeated Egyptians (Exod 12:35-36; 25:3-7).  In this way, the tabernacle is a memorial to the King of Israel’s victory over the king of Egypt.  Like the Arc D’Triumph that marked Napoleon’s greatest victory over his enemies, or like the way victorious coaches have their names assigned to gymnasiums and stadiums, so the tabernacle (later temple) served as a marker for the way the God of Israel defeated the surrounding nations. We see this aspect in a handful of ways.

Materials

First, notice that the materials that are collected are costly, beautiful, and fitting for a king.

25:3-7. This is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, bronze, blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones, & stones for setting, for the ephod &  for the breastpiece.

It is easy to miss just how expensive these materials are: First, the amount of gold, silver, and bronze is amazing. According to [Exodus] 38:21-31 approximately one ton of gold, four tons of silver, and two-and-a-half tons of bronze were used to make the tabernacle and its furnishings” (T.D. Alexander, From Paradise to Promised Land, 195).

Next, the dyed materials—blue, purple, scarlet—were not only the garments of royalty, they too were very rare and costly.  From where the priests served, the house was absolutely breathtaking.  It was meant to be.  The God of creation who is a master-builder and magnicifient artist, has called Israel to construct a house for him that is worthy of his glory.

Ark of the Testimony  

Not only are the materials royal.  The furniture is too.  In the Holy of Holies, sits the ark of testimony.  Overlaid with gold, this is God’s throne.  This is where he sits and rules over his people.  In fact, Exodus 25:16 records, “And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.”  The covenant laid out in Exodus 20-23 was stored in the tabernacle, affirming God’s kingship in Israel and Israel’s absolute promise to obey all God’s commands. (For an in-depth discussion of the relationship between the covenant and the house of God, see Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority).  Interestingly then, when Israel later rebelled against God, one of the greatest signs of his judgment was the destruction of the temple.

Moreover, in the New Testament, when the temple veil was torn, this was not only a picture of the access that New Testament believers have (Heb 10:19-25), it was a picture of God’s royal judgment upon Israel for their failure to keep covenant.

A Hint from ANE

Last, the pagan world surrounding Israel gives an interpretive context (by common grace) for understanding what the building of a temple signifies.  Jeffrey Niehaus makes this point very well in his book, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical TheologyIn the Ancient Near East, like with Napoleon’s arch, temples were built at the end of military campaigns.  Niehaus records the words of one particular Egyptian leader,

[Ra] begat me to do that which he did, to execute that which he command me to do… I will make a work, namely, a great house [a temple], For my father Atum [Pharaoh].  He will make it broad, according as he has caused me to conquer (90).

We find this same pattern is in Scripture. In Exodus, God saves Israel out of Egypt, and has them build a victory palace.  In Samuel and Kings, God gives David the victory over the enemies of God, and he desires to build a house for God.  While God does not permit David to build God a house, his son Solomon does with the pattern revealed to David (1 Chronicles 28).  Then in the New Testament, Jesus comes promising to build a house for the name of the Lord one that the gates of hell cannot defeat (Matt 16:18).  What is he doing?  He is building a victory temple.  Consider Paul’s flow of thought in Ephesians 2, where he concludes,

Ephesians 2:19-22. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (See my exegetical paper on Ephesians 2 for a more thorough explanation).

This is the message of Scripture: God who created a cosmic temple in which to dwell, set man in Eden in order to expand all over the earth.  Man sinned, and ruined that plan.  But God has sent a Second Adam to come and finish what Adam failed to do.

He has redeemed a people and he is now building a place.  And the question we must ask ourselves is this: Is that our story and our hope? Are you a living stone affixed in his temple, or are you trying to build your own–a house for your own name?  Are you worshiping the hero of God’s epic story who is building his victory memorial, or are you trying to create your own epic?  Rest assured, if you are looking to win the victory for yourself, you will lose out in the end.

Rather than finding joy in our own earthly successes, we must find joy in the promise of dwelling forever with the God of heaven.  We must cry with the Psalmist,

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! (Ps 84)

May that such longing for God’s dwelling place rule our hearts and govern our hopes!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Beware of ‘Airy Nothings’: Hugh Martin on the Atonement

Anyone who has spent time studying the nature of the atonement knows that there is much debate around the unpopular notion of  penal substitution.  Even in the last few decades, “crucicentric” evangelicals have begun questioning the atonement and its penal nature, along with its substitutionary role in salvation. In its place have arisen a bevy of Christus Victor and Christus Exemplar theories.  Thus, a defense of penal substitution is always needed.  Yet, sometimes the best defense comes not from our own day, but from centuries gone-bye.

Such is the case with Hugh Martin.  In his work entitled simply, The Atonement, Martin, a Scottish Presbyterian from the nineteenth century, does a masterful job unpacking the biblical presentation of the cross “as it relates to the covenant, the priesthood, and the intercession of our Lord.”  He argues for penal subtitution and particular redemption and presents a robust understanding of the cross.

In a world of competing theories of atonement, Martin’s biblical logic is much appreciated and instructive.  While many like Steve Chalke, Denny Weaver, and Thomas Finger offer a reductionistic approach to the cross, Martin incorporates all the biblical data and secures it to the penal substitution of the cross.  He argues that if you “get” the primary nature of the cross, you will be able to keep the other secondary and tertiary benefits; but if you misunderstand penal substitution, you will let go of everything else too.  His quote is worthy of consideration and meditation.

(1) It was by the atonement of a substitutionary sacrifice for sin, satisfying Divine justice, that Christ had scope for that unmurmuring patience by which He left us an ‘Example’ that we should follow His steps (1 Pet. 2:21-24)

(2) It was by dying a substitutionary and atoning death that He underwent ‘Martyrdom’ as a witness for the truth (John 18:37).

(3) It was in setting His face as a flint to go to Jerusalem, there to fill up with antitypical reality all Jerusalem’s priestly services, by offering Himself without spot to God a curse-bearing sacrifice for sin, that He denied Himself and took up His cross, and commended ‘Self-denial’ to His followers.

(4) It was when he proffered Himself to the sword of offended justice, awakened against Him, according to His own covenant arrangement, by the Father, that He illustrated ‘Self-surrender.’

(5) With Him, ‘Self-sacrifice’ was specifically sacrifice for sin, a satisfaction and a reconciliation.

(6) There is indeed in His Cross a ‘Governmental Display.’  It ‘declares the righteousness of God for the remission of sins;’ but only because Christ is there ‘set forth a propitiation through faith in His blood’ (Rom 3:25).  And it declares, manifests, [and] displays the love of God; but only in that God ‘sent forth His Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:10).

(7) A ‘Moral Influence,’ also, undoubtedly flows from the cross of Jesus.  But it is a fountain of moral influence; — moral influence without spiritual power were needlessly exerted on men dead in trespasses and sins; — it is a fountain both of Moral Influence and of regenerating energy to turn us unto righteousness, only because He there gave Himself in justice-satisfying substitution, ‘the just for the unjust, that He might bring us unto God’ (1 Pet 3:18).

Secure the intrinsic and essential nature, and the primary and direct design of the atoning death of Christ, and all the secondary results—flitting otherwise as mere shades in dream-land, vainly claiming the reality of fact—become real and true, and are secured.  But when they claim to be of the essence of the atonement, they fight against their realization… In the hands of those who plead them as explanations of the cross, they are at the best but ‘airy nothings;’ ‘their local habitation,’ and only home of life—their source of truth, reality, and power—is just that same old doctrine which they malign and would subvert.  As if sunbeams revile the sun! (The Atonement [Greenville, SC: Reformed Academic Press, 1997], 69-71).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss