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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:The Substitionary Atonement of Jesus Christ
Text:LD 23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:02/18/2018
Added:2019-01-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 
 
 The Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus Christ
2 Corinthians 5:21; Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 60
 
Those who are devoted students of the Old Testament book of Leviticus – and even those who don't spend a lot of time in that very difficult block – are undoubtedly familiar with the Day of Atonement. The Lord had commanded Old Testament Israel to observe the Day of Atonement each year. It was a day that was filled with symbolism reflecting the redeeming work that Christ would accomplish on our behalf.
 
Part of the day included having Aaron confess the sins of the people while placing his hands on the head of the scapegoat. Leviticus 16:21-22 describes how Aaron (was to) lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness… The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area...
 
That ritual on the annual Day of Atonement was pointing ahead to what we know as the substitutionary atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Just as the scapegoat symbolically carried the sins of the people away, so Jesus Christ has removed our sins from us as He became our substitute, taking the punishment that we deserve upon Himself.
 
But not only did He take our punishment upon Himself; He also imputes to us His record of perfect righteousness. The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ has two distinct parts: first, He became sin for us, then secondly, His righteousness is imputed to those who have saving faith in Christ alone.
 
The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ is at the very heart of the gospel and it is expressed succinctly in our text from 2 Corinthians 5:21. In many English translations of the Bible, only 23 words are used to summarize the heart of the gospel. But in the original Greek, only 15 words are used in this verse. Yet, even in its brevity, our text speaks volumes on how we are reconciled to God through Christ.
 
The context of the verse describes the reconciliation we have with God through faith in Christ. The verses leading up to verse 21 are of great comfort. In those verses we rejoice to see that we are reconciled to God through Christ, that we are new creations in Him, and that He died so that we would no longer live for ourselves but instead live for Him who died for us and was raised again for our justification. And while the context of this passage reveals to us our great need for Christ, it is this 21st verse upon which the whole passage – and indeed – all of Scripture depends. 
 
He Who Had No Sin
 
The verse begins by telling us that God sent His sinless Son to redeem us from our sin. It says, God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us.
   
In the Old Testament, the animals that were offered as sacrifices, whether on the Day of Atonement or on other days when sacrifices were made, had to be perfect. For instance, the Passover lambs that were offered each year at the Passover feast were to be lambs without defect and without blemish. They were pointing ahead to the perfection of our Passover Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him there is no sin, no imperfection or blemish.
 
And when verse 21 tells us that God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us it does not mean that Jesus became a sinner on the cross. That radical idea has been proposed by some over the course of history. But nothing could be further from the truth. When Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross He was – and is and ever will be – pure and blameless, a lamb without blemish or defect. Yet as He was crucified for us, He bore all our sins.
  
What does it mean to you, that Jesus bore all your sins on the cross of Calvary? I suppose that the impact of Jesus bearing all your sins depends on your concept of sin. Many people take sin so lightly that it is no big deal for Jesus to have taken up our sins.  Many people view sins as nothing more than shortcomings. And sins for many others are counterbalanced, in their minds, by good deeds. Many people, although they may not consciously say it, have a mental conception that although they have sinned they have yet also done enough good things to “tip the scales of justice” in their favor. In their minds God will accept them because their shortcomings did not weigh as much as their good deeds on the scale of God’s justice.
 
But those of you who are familiar with the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism may recall how the catechism, following Scripture, cuts to the heart to show us the enormity of our sin which was laid upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Question 60 asks, “How are you right with God?” And the answer is:
 
Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.
 
Even though my conscience accuses me
of having grievously sinned against all God's commandments
and of never having kept any of them,
and even though I am still inclined toward all evil,
nevertheless,
without my deserving it at all,
out of sheer grace,
God grants and credits to me
the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ,
as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner,
as if I had been as perfectly obedient
as Christ was obedient for me.
 
All I need to do
is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.
 
The first thing the catechism tells us is that our conscience accuses us of breaking all of God's commands. The catechism describes with striking clarity how great a sin problem we really have. It says, “My conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned...” The catechism is reminding us that our sin against God is not a trivial thing in His sight.
 
It points out that we have sinned against all God’s commandments.”  Sometimes we are tempted to be more than a little smug, thinking, “Maybe I’ve failed to keep every single commandment as I ought, but I obey most of them.” The catechism, ech oing Scripture, flatly tells us: “No way.”
 
In fact, the next phrase reminds us we have “Never kept any of them.” Every command God has given we have broken, broken grievously, and often with impunity, with what the old King James Version calls “sinning with a high hand” in describing the rebellion and sin of Old Testament Israel. And then the clincher: “I am still inclined toward all evil.”   Not just some evil, but all evil. 
 
Sometimes we make progress dealing with a sin problem in our life.  Perhaps we have struggled with anger; it has gotten the upper hand time and again in our life. We pray about it, we apply the truths of God’s Word to our anger problem; we consciously work at maintaining a righteous anger but refraining from unrighteous anger. And by God’s grace, perhaps we see progress.
 
But about the time that we make progress in one area, another area, perhaps lust, or greed, or envy crops up in our lives. We may have some progress in one area of sanctified living but find several other areas where we fail miserably. That is part of what the catechism is describing when it has us acknowledge, “I am still inclined toward all evil.”   
 
In order to truly appreciate the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ – that He personally took your sins and mine upon Himself on the cross of Calvary – we have to first have spiritual eyes to see the pervasive enormity of our sin.
   
I have had, on occasion, people come to me with concerns about how sinful they are. They are concerned that they are too sinful to be saved. But acknowledgment of the enormity of our sin is a necessary perception for each one of us to have. Until we see the multi-faceted, all pervasive nature of our sin, we cannot see the greatness of our Savior. He is so great, gracious, and merciful that He took every sin of those who believe upon Him upon Himself.
 
It is indeed an astounding fact that Christ who is eternally sinless – pure, holy in every way – was yet condemned as a sinner in our place.  As Isaiah 53:5-6 put it: He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
 
That is one part of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. He became our substitute on the cross. There He bore all the righteous and proper wrath of God against your sin and mine. He became sin for us.
 
The Righteousness of God
 
However, there are two parts to the teaching – or doctrine – of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. The first aspect is that He became sin for us, and the second aspect is that He did so in order that we might become the righteousness of God.  God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
 
The catechism does a beautiful job of summarizing that second aspect of the substitutionary atonement. It teaches:
 
Without my deserving it at all,
out of sheer grace,
God grants and credits to me
the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ,
as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner,
as if I had been as perfectly obedient
as Christ was obedient for me.
 
What does it mean that He grants to us and credits to us the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ? When the catechism speaks of God’s perfect satisfaction, it is describing how God the Father, being just and holy, requires that a sentence be paid for the penalty of sin. He is not like so many human judges who excuse the lawbreaker, give him a light sentence and let him go free.
 
God the Father, as the holy and just God, requires satisfaction that the penalty for sin has been fully paid.  None of us can render satisfaction to God for our sins. All of our good deeds could never counterbalance the weight of sin on the scale of God's justice. In fact, all our righteous deeds, the Bible teaches, are like a filthy rag in God's sight (Isaiah 64:6). Our righteousness can never bring about our redemption.  As Psalm 49:7-8 puts it, No man can redeem the life of another or give God a ransom for him - the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough. 
 
Only Jesus could render that perfect satisfaction. And Jesus did render that perfect satisfaction. He rendered it through His perfect life on earth, known as His “active obedience” to the Father, as He kept every law for us.  And Jesus rendered perfect satisfaction for sin through His “passive obedience,” as He allowed Himself to be crucified as a propitiation – that is, a covering of our sins by His blood – in such a way that the proper and righteous wrath of His Father is placated and satisfied. Out of sheer grace that perfect satisfaction of Jesus Christ is granted to you and to me!
 
The catechism also teaches that the righteousness of Christ is credited – imputed – to us. The catechism is echoing the words of our text that God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. The righteousness of Jesus Christ, credited to us by faith in Him, is the only righteousness that can save us. The Puritans described the righteousness of Christ which is imputed to us by faith as an “alien” righteousness. Our righteousness is not our own; it belongs to Christ, but is freely granted – imputed, credited – to us.  Romans 3:21-22 assures us, But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
 
That is why in Philippians 3:8-9 the Apostle Paul writes: I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
 
The third thing that God grants and credits to us, out of sheer grace, without us deserving it at all, is the holiness of Jesus Christ. To be holy is to be separate, specifically to be separate from sin and separated to God.
 
The command to be holy is one of the most persistent commands in Scripture. 1 Peter 2:15 is just one of many Scriptures as it commands us: “Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all that you do, for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”  But even though we strive to live a holy life, we recognize that our holiness, just like our righteousness, can never save us.  For although we strive to separate ourselves from sin and conform ourselves to Christ, we still fail; we still sin. 
 
But did you notice how the catechism qualifies “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ”? Those are theological terms that the authors of the catechism could have left us with – just theological doctrine for our minds. But the Heidelberg Catechism is more than a doctrinal statement of biblical truth. The catechism invariably gives personal application to the doctrine that it teaches. The personal application for us is this: “Without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. That statement should make clear to us how incredibly gracious the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ is.
 
Sometimes people remark what a wonderful child Mary and Joseph had. Can you imagine having a perfect teenager? One who never rebelled? Jesus lived a life of perfection in his youngest years, his teens years, in the turbulent twenties – all through His life. Yet He faced every temptation you and I have faced, and even far more temptation than we have faced. Hebrews 4:15 assures us:  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
 
And now that perfect life of Jesus – a life of perfect obedience, compassion and love – is credited to you and to me “as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me.”
 
Believing the Truth
 
However, knowing these truths, in and of themselves, cannot save you or me. Salvation doesn’t consist in knowing a number of biblical facts, even though the truths of Scripture are invaluable, in the words of Psalm 19:10, more precious than gold, than much pure gold.
 
Beyond knowing the facts, you have to believe them. The concluding sentence of the catechism says: “All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart” and 2 Corinthians 6:2 speaks of the urgency of accepting God’s gift of salvation, for now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
 
The day will come when the door to heaven will be closed, just as the door to the ark was closed when the flood of judgment came back in the days of Noah.  Now is the time to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and have the blessed assurance of salvation, the blessed assurance that God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
 
Do you have that assurance this morning? Have you, by God’s grace and Holy Spirit put your faith in Jesus Christ alone? If so, take great comfort in the truths of our text as they are summarized by the catechism: “Without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me.”
 
If you believe that wonderful truth, then live a life of joyful obedience and gratitude to the One who became sin for you, even as the hymnwriter expressed it:
 
“Man of Sorrows!” what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
 
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
 
Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior! (Phillip P. Bliss)
 
Amen!
___
 
Bulletin Outline:
 
God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.2 Corinthians 5:21
 
 
The Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus Christ
2 Corinthians 5:21; HC Q&A 60
 
I. The heart of the gospel, centered on the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, is succinctly summarized in verse 21:
    1) Christ who is eternally sinless, pure, holy in every way, was condemned as a sinner in our place (Isaiah 53:5-6)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
    2) Through faith in Christ we become the righteousness of God as “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” is imputed – credited – to
        us (Romans 3:21-25; Q&A 60)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
II. Our response: By God’s grace and Spirit we are to “accept this gift of God with a believing  heart” for now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of
    salvation (2 Corinthians 6:1-2; Q&A 60)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 02/1, Rev. Ted Gray

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