Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Cross of Christ @ Easter (Part 3)

The Substitution and Satisfaction found in the Cross:

"If the early Greek Fathers represented the cross primarily as a 'satisfaction' of the devil, in the sense of being the ransom-price demanded by him and paid to him, and the early Latin Fathers saw it as a satisfaction of God's law, a fresh approach was made by Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century, who is his Cur Deus Homo? made a systematic exposition of the cross as the satisfaction of God's offended honour... Anselm's great treatise [is] on the relationship between the incarnation and the atonement, he agrees that the devil needed to be overcome, but rejects the patristic ransom-theories on the ground that 'God owed nothing to the devil but punishment'.  Instead, man owed something to God, and this is the debt which needed to be repaid... To sin is, therefore, to 'take away from God what is his own', which means to steal from him and so to dishonour him."
John Stott; The Cross of Christ, p139

There was no viable way for us to return what we had 'stolen' from God. The Old Testament covenant tries to 'replace' what sin steals by substituting a lamb or other animal as a sacrifice to appease God, but it could never completely atone for the sins of a human.

If humans were ever to be forgiven then a repayment of what is owed must be made. Humankind couldn't do this, our good deeds were required of us anyway, how could they be seen as an 'extra' to offer as repayment. Our continual sinfulness would also mean that our debt would get larger, and so we could not pay for one another's sins (how can one who is condemned even try to substitute himself for another?).

The only answer then was for God to pay the price, for him to give back to himself what was owed.  People wonder why he could not simply forget the debt, but they also forget the holiness and truthfulness of God - for him to compromise in this way would negate his perfect justice and inherently mean he was no longer God.  So that was out of the question.  A human must pay for the repayment, but a human could not. Only God could pay, but again, he could not.

And so the relationship between the atonement (repayment of sins) and the incarnation (God becoming flesh)  is of utmost importance. Jesus is completely God, and completely human.  He can, therefore, repay the debt, because he is both God and human.

Jesus does this through the act of substitution. Where God's punishment for our thievery is that we will experienced his wrath, instead Jesus (on the cross) substituted himself into that punishment.   From the sixth hour, till the ninth hour, on the cross - as darkness fell over the land - Jesus experienced God's wrath. This must have been more painful than any of the physical abuse Jesus suffered. But it was in this act that Jesus' substitutionary actions granted us salvation.

Because of Jesus substitution God repays the debt himself, but without tainting his perfection and holiness. His offended honour is restored fully because, as Jesus substitutes himself in the place of humankind, the atonement is complete.

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