Personal Reconciliation and Personal Subjugation: How the Cross of Christ Achieves ‘Cosmic Reconciliation’ (Colossians 1:15–2:15)

1920x1080-it-is-finishedSince the start of our series on the cross, one recurring theme has been the way that judgment and salvation are paired. In the Passover, God saved his firstborn and judged Egypt’s firstborns. At the Red Sea, God saved his people and destroyed Pharaoh and his army. Just the same, as I read 2 Kings 3 last week, I found this theme again. The water that God provided to save Israel is the same water that brought the Moabites to their death.

In short, God’s judgment is never without salvation. And his salvation is never without judgment. From the flood of Noah to the end of time, we find salvation and judgment. And in this week’s sermon, we saw it in Colossians 1–2.

In Colossians 1:20, Paul says that the blood of Christ’s cross is reconciling all things in creation. And in what follows (1:21–2:23) he explains how that happens – through salvation and judgment. In these two chapters Paul identifies whom the cross saves and whom the cross judges. And for us, as we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, we learn how the cross has cosmic, as well as personal implications.

To learn more about the cosmic effects of the cross, you can watch this sermon. You can also read about it here.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Heart of the Gospel: A Sermon on Penal Substitution (Isaiah 53)

1920x1080-it-is-finishedIn the Old Testament, there are a handful of passages critical for understanding Christ’s cross. Over the last few weeks, I have preached on many of them (Genesis 22, Exodus 12, Leviticus 16; Ben Purves also did an outstanding job preaching Psalm 22). There are other passage too that our current sermon series won’t cover (e.g., Numbers 21, Psalm 118, Zechariah 9–14, etc.) But the most important passage in the Old Testament for learning what Christ’s cross achieved is Isaiah 53 (technically, Isaiah 52:13–53:12). And that was the text I preached this week.

In this fifteen verse, five stanza “Servant song,” we are introduced to the One who will die for the sins of his people. In particular, he offers a guilt offering in the place of those who deserve God’s penalty of death.

In recent years, the idea of Christ’s penal substitution and God pouring out his wrath on the Son has not set well with many—both those inside the church and those outside the church, as well as those leaving the church. Indeed, with an appeal to God’s universal love, many have misunderstood how Christ’s death, as a penal substitute, is good news and necessary for salvation. Others have questioned how guilt can be transferred from one person, or one group, to another.

Many of these questions have been well answered in the book Pierced for Our Transgressionsas well as by many others in church history. In every case, Isaiah 53 plays a prominent role in explaining what Christ’s cross achieved. And in my sermon yesterday, you can hear why the most important thing about the cross is not what could be seen with the naked eye, but what the Father, Son, and Spirit achieved in the cross. Indeed, while Mel Gibson’s Passion captured the brutality of the cross, it did not explain the divine design of Christ’s cross, nor how Christ’s death might benefit those who believe upon him.

Truly, if you want to understand the cross, you have to look to the Scripture and especially to Isaiah 53. So here is a sermon that explains why the cross of Christ and especially penal substitution stands at the heart of the gospel and the good news that Christ died for sinners.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Pierced ‘That I Might’ Praise: The Worship Only Penal Substitution Creates


For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:21 —

For Christ also suffered once for sins,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God,
being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.
— 1 Peter 3:18 —

In and around the church, there has always been a group of theologians and pastors willing to question or deny penal substitution—the evangelical doctrine that affirms Christ’s death as a payment of penalty for sinners who trust in Jesus. Like Peter objecting to Christ’s prediction of suffering and death (Matthew 16:21–23), liberal theologians like Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albert Schweitzer, and Adolph Von Harnack, along with modern authors like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and William Paul Young (author of The Shack) have maligned the blood of the cross.

Unfortunately, such denial of penal substitution depends upon a denial of Scripture, a defamation of biblical authors, and twisting of biblical words. At the same time, making Christ a mere model, teacher, or prophet, follows the lie of Satan (Matthew 16:23); it effectively denies the deity of Christ and God’s plan of salvation, foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. But aside from the theological considerations—which are considerable—denying penal substitution  steals glory from God’s work and praise from the believer’s heart. Continue reading

Beholding Christ at the Lord’s Table: Penal Substitution (Old Testament)

altarAnd can it be, that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain? For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me!
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me!
— Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain”

Substitution stands at the heart of cross—the innocent dying in place of the guilty, the righteous for the unrighteous, the sinless for the sinful. English hymnody is filled with this truth, because the Bible repeats the emphasis—Jesus Christ, sinless son of God, laid down his life in the place of his beloved. But hymnody is not the only place in Christian worship where Christ’s substitution is proclaimed; when we come to the Lord’s Table we also remember his death in our place.

In recent years, there has been no little debate about this truth. More than a few books have been penned arguing against penal substitution. Negatively, some have said penal substitution posits an angry, blood-thirsty God. Others, more constructively, argue that Christ came to defeat the powers and principalities (Christus Victor) and give a moral example of love in his death. To the latter, we can whole-heartedly affirm—Jesus did come to defeat the devil (1 John 3:8) and provide an example of holy love (1 Peter 2:21). But he did so by nailing his people’s sin to the cross, disarming the devil (Colossians 2:13–15) and providing an atonement for those who would imitate him (read the context of 1 Peter 2:21, esp. v. 24).

Therefore, to pit penal substitution against any other aspect of the cross obscures the necessity and beauty of Christ’s death in our place. In fact, it is by remembering Christ’s substitution that we rightly understand God’s love (1 John 4:8–10), and how a holy, triune God reconciles sinners to himself. Therefore, when we approach the Lord’s Table, we must remember see how the meal portrays his substitution.

Today, let us consider three Old Testament passages which teach penal substitution and which prepare our hearts to worship the Son of God who gladly took our sin on his shoulders and died in our place. Continue reading

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