It is comforting to know that God is holy and righteous. It would be terrifying if the omnipotent Ruler of the universe were evil. To the thinking man, however, the absolute goodness of God is also disturbing. If God is good, what will He do with those of us who are not? What will a good and righteous God do with human beings who are self-centred, inclined to evil, and disobedient? If the Judge of all the earth deals with us on the basis of justice, shouldn’t He condemn us all?
These questions lead us to the greatest of all religious and philosophical dilemmas: How can God be just, yet pardon those who should justly be condemned? How can God be holy, yet befriend those who are evil? Anyone who justifies the wicked is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 17:15). How then can the Lord justify sinners like us and still be just (Romans 3:26)?
God’s Answer to Our Dilemma
If God acts according to His justice, then the sinner must be condemned. If God pardons the sinner, then His justice is compromised. The answer to this greatest of all dilemmas can be found only in the gospel. In jus-tice, God condemned humanity and demanded complete satisfaction for our crimes against Him. In love, God took humanity upon Himself, bore our sin, suffered the penalty we deserved, and died in our place. The same God whose justice demanded satisfaction for our sin made satis-faction by offering Himself in our place. This is what makes the gospel truly good news!
Jesus Christ, Our Substitute
According to the Bible, the Father’s love for us moved Him to give His Son as a sacrifice for our sins, and the Son’s love for us moved Him to offer Himself willingly for us.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have ever-lasting life. (John 3:16)
God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:8–10)
[Jesus said,] “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Upon the cross, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offered Himself as a sacrifice for His people’s sin. Most historians consider the cross to be the cruelest mechanism of torture that mankind has ever devised. This cruelty serves to illustrate two important realities.
First, this cruelty illustrates the greatness of our hostility toward God. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, and the world so hated God that it subjected Him to the worst form of torture and death.
Second, it illustrates the greatness of our sin against God. Our crimes against God were so deplorable and the penalties against us so severe that they could be paid for only through the indescribable suffering and death of the Son of God!
The physical suffering and death that Christ endured on the cross were absolutely necessary. We must understand, however, that His suffering involved more than just the cruelty of evil men. On the cross Christ suffered the judgment of God! God’s justice demanded satisfaction for our sins, and His wrath was kindled against us. To satisfy God’s justice and appease His wrath, it was necessary that Christ suffer the judgment we deserved. Thus, He bore our sin, became a curse in our place, was abandoned by God, and suffered the full measure of God’s wrath against us.
Christ Bore Our Sin.
On the cross, our sins were imputed to Christ. That means God placed our sins on Christ’s account and considered them His. Consequently, Christ was declared guilty before the judgment throne of God and was treated as the guilty party.
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. (Isaiah 53:6)
For [God] has made [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Christ Suffered Our Curse.
To be cursed of God is to become an objectof His displeasure and condemnation. All of us were under God’s curse because of our sin. To save us from the curse, Christ became a curse for us and suffered the judgment of God in our place. He redeemed us, which means that He paid the price to satisfy divine justice in order that all who believe in Him are set free.
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” (Galatians 3:10)
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”). (Galatians 3:13)
Christ Was Forsaken by God in Our Place.
One of the most terrifying results of our sin is alienation from God—to be shut out of His favorable presence and communion.
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2)
To save us from such eternal separation, Christ bore our sins on Calvary and was forsaken by God in our place.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, say-ing, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Christ Suffered the Wrath of God for Us.
The Bible teaches us that God is angry with man because of his unrelenting evil, although this is an unpopular truth. Psalm 7:11 declares, “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day.”
God’s anger is not an uncontrollable, irrational, or selfish emotion but a result of His holiness, righteousness, and love for all that is good. God hates sin and comes with terrible and often violent wrath against it. If man is an object of God’s wrath, it is because he has chosen to chal-lenge God’s sovereignty, violate His will, and give himself to evil.
Since all men are guilty of sin, they deserve God’s wrath. In love, however, Christ took the cup of God’s wrath that we deserve and drank down every drop until it was completely depleted and the justice of God against us was fully satisfied.
For thus says the LORD God of Israel to me: “Take this wine cup of fury from My hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it.” (Jeremiah 25:15)
He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will…. Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” (Mat-thew 26:42)
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4–5)
Christ Died in Our Place.
One of the greatest proofs of the judgment ofGod against our unrighteousness is physical death—the separation of the soul from the body. From the time of Adam until the present, all people are faced with the terrible and undeniable reality that they will die (Romans 5:12). The Bible teaches us that death was not an original or natural part of creation. Instead, it is a judgment of God upon people because of their sin. In order to save us from the power of death, it was necessary that Christ die in our place.
For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)
And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last. (Luke 23:46)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)
Christ did not die as a mere martyr, but as the Redeemer of sinful humanity. Before He breathed His last breath, He declared, “It is fin-ished!” (John 19:30). When He said this, He meant that through His suffering and death, He made full payment for the sins of those who believe in Him.
Do you believe that Christ died for sinners? If you do not, then why are you resisting the word of the God who cannot lie? If you do believe it, then how has this great truth affected you? Do you remain indifferent to the crucified Lord? Or worse, do you use the cross of Christ as an excuse to live a wicked, immoral life? If Christ’s death has truly come home to your heart, then you will no longer be able to live for yourself but will be inwardly compelled to live for the One who died and rose again for you. Once God opens your eyes to see His wisdom and power in the cross, you will never be the same again but will follow the risen Christ.