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Why Did Christ Die?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
May 13, 2023 12:01 am

Why Did Christ Die?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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May 13, 2023 12:01 am

On the cross, Jesus fully satisfied the demands of God's justice. Today, R.C. Sproul outlines the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement and conveys the magnitude of Christ's death.

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In the Old Testament, again, we see it in the drama of the scapegoat. The sin of the people is transferred to the goat, and then the goat takes the sins away. He is removed from or outside of the presence of God into the outer wilderness.

And that is what is indicated by expiation, and God speaks in this language where He says, as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As an unbeliever, I can remember asking a Christian, why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Wasn't there another way to save people? And this Christian couldn't answer that question. If an unbeliever came up to you and asked you, why did Jesus have to die, could you give an answer? Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thanks for joining us today for this Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind. A right understanding of the gospel, of the good news, involves correctly understanding why Jesus had to die.

As R.C. Sproul continues his Overview of Theology series, we're in the middle of a section on the person of Christ, and today he'll help us understand and better explain to others why Christ died. Here's Dr. Sproul. When I was a seminary student in a rather liberal institution, I remember an incident took place in one of our classes in homiletics. That class is designed to teach you how to preach. And our homiletics professor was basically a speech instructor, not a theologian or a biblical scholar. And so usually at the end of each student sermon he would give an analysis and critique of the delivery and the organization of the content, but would typically refrain from any criticism of the theological content. But I remember one day one of the students in the class gave what I thought was quite a stirring message on the substitutionary satisfaction view of the atonement.

And when he was finished, the homiletics professor lost it. He was beside himself with anger, and he spoke out and said, how dare you preach the satisfaction substitutionary theory of the atonement in this day and age? And I couldn't resist raising my hand, and he called on me and I said, excuse me, but what is it about this day and age that makes the classic biblical doctrine of the atonement suddenly obsolete?

And off we went on that. But I mean, there has been fierce resistance in our day against the classical view of the atonement. As I mentioned, when we looked at the satisfaction aspect of the atonement, there are those who believe that it's simply barbarian and pre-scientific to think of an atonement by which somebody works as a substitute and pours out their own blood to satisfy the demands of God's justice. But the idea of substitution is so deeply rooted in the whole biblical concept of redemption that to eliminate substitution from our theology and from our Christology is, in my judgment, simply to discard the Scriptures altogether. Karl Barth, who carried no brief for classical orthodoxy, once made the observation that in his judgment, the single most important word in all of the New Testament is the Greek word hupair, which means in behalf of, in behalf of, indicating a redemption that is accomplished vicariously, a redemption that is accomplished for us by someone else. Now again, the New Testament looks at Jesus, and among the titles that are given to Jesus in the New Testament is the title, The Last Adam, or The New Adam, wherein Christ becomes a representative in an analogous way to the manner in which Adam was our first representative. And the New Testament labors the point that in the fall of one man, ruin and death came on the world, and through the other man's obedience, redemption came to us.

And so we see this concept of representation in the New Testament with respect to the role of Jesus as the successful Adam, the last Adam, who does for us, for His people, what the first Adam failed to achieve. But also, if we go back to the Old Testament and see how the whole concept of atonement works out in Israel by an elaborate system of ritual and ceremony that God commanded of His people in terms of the annual day of atonement in which several animals were involved. In the first place, the high priest who was selected and alone able to offer the sacrifice required of God to atone for the sins of the people before he himself could offer the sacrifice had to offer sacrifices of his own in order to qualify to act as a priest for the rest of the rest of the people. And then, of course, in the drama of the atonement ritual in the tabernacle and in the temple, there were involved two distinct animals. On the one hand, there was the scapegoat. And you recall how in the Old Testament situation that one of the rites associated with the day of atonement was when this goat was brought to the priest, to the high priest, and the high priest then laid his hands on the back of the goat, symbolizing the transfer or the imputation of the sins of the people to the goat.

And then the goat was driven out into the wilderness, outside the camp, outside where the presence of God was experienced in blessing. But that was only part of the atonement. The other part was the slaying of the lamb, whose blood was then sprinkled upon the mercy seat, which was the lid of the ark of the covenant, which was the throne of God, which was found in the Holy of Holies. And in fact, the language that is used there is that that mercy seat was called the reconciliation, because there the blood that was spilled indicated the manner or the means by which God would be reconciled to His people.

And so you have this elaborate ceremony and ritual. And yet in the New Testament we are reminded that these substitutes that were used in the ceremony of the day of atonement in the Old Testament were but shadows of a reality that would come later. The author of Hebrews tells us that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins, so that the value of those atoning sacrifices in the Old Testament was restricted to there being a dramatization or illustration of an authentic atonement that was yet to come. In other words, people were justified, we are told, by believing in the promise of God and that by looking at these rites and ceremonies, they were seeing, as I said, shadows of a reality that had not yet come. And the only thing by which the sins of the people in Israel received real atonement was from the atonement of Christ, that these other things merely foreshadowed and signified.

But the point I want you to see is that in that Old Testament ceremony, the concept of substitution was central. Now why the blood sacrifice? I remember John Guest, the evangelist from England, once made the statement, you know, when he listened to Christians always talking about the blood of Jesus and the power of the blood and all of that.

He said, suppose Jesus would have come down from heaven and scratched His finger on a nail. Would that have sufficed as an atonement? That's blood, and it's the blood of Jesus.

Isn't that all that's required? No, the point that John Guest was making was that to the Hebrew, the spilling of the blood, the shedding of the blood, meant the giving of life, because the punishment for sin originally was death, not just wounds, not just corporal punishment, not just scratching the finger on the nail. But what was required for the transgression against God was the life of the perpetrator. All sin originally is capital against God. And so the atonement indicated in these blood rituals not just simply bleeding, but dying.

That was the point. And the substitution aspect was seen that what God was saying to the people of Israel, you have sinned, you have sinned, you have committed capital offenses against me, and the law requires your death, but I will accept in the place of your death the death of a substitute symbolized by the death of these animals that were provided in the sacrificial system of Israel. Now, in this substitutionary action, there are two distinct aspects to it that the Scriptures speak of. They speak of propitiation and they speak of expiation.

Let's start with the second one first. These two words sound very similar, and they are, except for the prefixes are different. And if we look at the first one, expiation, the prefix X means from or out of. And what is in view with the concept of expiation is the removal of guilt from a person, where it is moved away from him and transmitted to some distance. And it's what I would call the horizontal dimension of atonement. Now, in the Old Testament, again, we see it in the drama of the scapegoat. The sin of the people is transferred to the goat, and then the goat takes the sins away. He is removed from or outside of the presence of God into the outer wilderness. And that is what is indicated by expiation. And God speaks in this language where He says, as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. So, one aspect of the atonement is the removal of our sins from us. Well, of course, they are removed not to a scapegoat that's driven into the wilderness, but the scapegoat in the New Testament is Christ, who as the Lamb of God assumes on His back the transfer of our guilt and of our sins to Him. He becomes the sin-bearer, fulfilling the prophecies related to the servant of the Lord that we find chiefly in Isaiah 53 in the Old Testament, where He has borne our transgressions, and He has carried our sins for us. That's what is meant by expiation. Now, propitiation has to do with the vertical dimension, and this takes us back to our previous lecture, where in the act of propitiation, God's justice is propitiated or satisfied, that the moral obligation that we owe for our sins is paid to God in the vertical dimension. And so, in this case, God's justice is satisfied. He is placated.

He is fully satisfied with the price that has been paid by our substitute. Now, again, if we don't have a substitute, then there can be no expiation. And unless we have a substitute, we have no propitiation because we are not capable in and of ourselves to satisfy the demands of God's justice.

If we were, there would be no need for an atonement, but since we can't pay our moral indebtedness, there is an absolute need for a substitute who is able to do for us what we can't possibly do for ourselves. Often I'm engaged in intellectual debates and discussions with skeptics in the aspect of field of apologetics that we're doing, and I try to answer people to the best of my ability with all of the questions that they raise about the truth claims of Christianity. But I found many, many times in these discussions that the questions become almost endless. If you answer one to their satisfaction, they're right away with another one and another one and another one, and it's just like chasing a cat around the barn.

And finally, I'll get to the place of almost exasperation, and I'll just stop and I'll say, wait, let me ask you a question. What do you do with your guilt? What do you do with your guilt? I don't ask them, are you guilty or are you a sinner? Because I know they know that they're sinners and that they're good. I say, you have guilt.

What do you do with it? Well, that's usually they begin to stumble in answering because they know where I'm headed, because they know they don't have an answer for their guilt unless it is some form of denial. I just had this discussion with a man in the past week, and I said to him, what do you do with your guilt? And you know what his answer to me was? I don't have any guilt. He said, I'm a good guy. And it was tragic to hear somebody say to me that they don't have any guilt. That's tantamount to saying, I'm a perfect human being.

So we see both the vertical and the horizontal involving a substitute. Now in terms of the biblical motif of atonement, at the heart of the biblical motif of the biblical motif of atonement, at the heart of the Bible's explanation of atonement is the covenant structure of it. In the Old Testament, when God made a covenant with His people and particularly with respect to the covenant mediated by Moses, as we've seen already, that as the mediator of that covenant, Moses is known as the law giver, because God enters into a promise for His people, but that promise has stipulations that must be maintained. And those stipulations are His commandments. And as we've seen in the structure of covenant that the covenants of antiquity had dual sanctions, both rewards and punishments.

Rewards if you kept the law, punishments if you violated the law. And the language that is used there to express those dual sanctions is the language of blessing and curse. Where in Deuteronomy, for example, God says to the people, if you keep my law, blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall you be in the city, blessed shall you be when you sit down, blessed shall you be when you rise up. Blessed shall you be in the bedroom, blessed shall you be in the kitchen, blessed shall you be in the family room, blessed shall you be all over the place if you obey the law. And conversely, if you break the law, cursed shall you be in the country, cursed shall you be in the city, cursed shall you be when you sit down, when you rise up in the kitchen, in the living room, wherever.

wherever. And so that motif of the curse is central to the whole concept of covenant. But what we read in the Old Testament is that Israel as a nation corporately and individually to a person breaks the covenant. All of us are covenant breakers, which means all of us stand exposed to the curse. One of my favorite portions of the hymn, Joy to the World, is that refrain that goes, far as the curse is found.

Well, how far is the curse found? The world is cursed. Our labor is cursed. The man is cursed. The serpent is cursed. The woman is cursed. We are all under the curse of sin. And to be cursed of God in the Old Testament is not to be associated with the kind of curses that we hear in popular language today, whereby you think of voodoo witchcraft where you put a curse on somebody by putting a pin in a little replica doll, or in the old stories of the perils of Pauline, you know, or in Mighty Mouse when Oil Can Harry has been foiled, he says, Koises foiled again. That's not what we're thinking of here. To be cursed of God is to be cut off.

That's the image, the primary image. To be cut off from His presence, to be cut off from His blessing, to be blessed of God in the Old Testament was to be drawn close to Him, to have the light of His countenance lifted up upon you and have His face shining on you. That's what it meant to be blessed.

To be cursed was to have God turn His back, turn out the lights, to put you into the outer darkness, to cut you off from His presence and all of the benefits and all of the blessings that come from a personal relationship with God. Now, that Christ fulfills this in a substitutionary way is dramatically taught by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians. In chapter 3 of Galatians, Paul says this, verse 8, in the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, In you all the nations shall be blessed.

You see, that's the old gospel, the promise of divine blessing, so that those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. 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. But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for the just shall live by faith. Yet the law is not of faith, but the man who does them shall live by them. And here we come to the crux of the matter, and I don't mean to pun when I say crux. Verse 13, Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.

Pro nobis. He has become a curse for us, for it is written, Cursed is everyone who hangs upon the tree that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus. When Paul probes the depths of the atonement, he goes to the concept of the curse. He says that the price for sin is to experience the curse of God.

Christ becomes a curse. He's cut off from the land of the living. He's delivered into the hands of the Gentiles. It's significant to me that in the death of Jesus, He was not killed by His own people. He was killed by the Gentiles, who were considered to be in the outside the camp dimension. And even physically, Jesus died outside the city of Jerusalem.

Golgotha was outside the city limits. He had to be taken outside the camp, numbered among the Gentiles, considered unclean. And God plunges the world into darkness while Christ is being crucified, again indicating the turning off of the light of His countenance, that God doesn't look at Him. And in that moment, Christ cries out from the cross, My God, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? Because He was forsaken. He had to be forsaken, because the penalty for sin is divine forsakenness. And the question is, does God forsake us, or does He forsake our substitute, who endured the fullness of the curse of divine forsakenness in our behalf?

That was R.C. Sproul from his Overview of Theology series, Foundations. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Saturday. I'm Nathan W. Bingham. After hearing today's message from Dr. Sproul, I hope you're better equipped if an unbeliever asks you, why did Jesus have to die on the cross? That's why a series like this, Foundations, is so helpful, because not only does it help you as a Christian know what you believe and why you believe it, it also helps you defend these crucial doctrines from the Bible. This series, Foundations, is actually 60 messages in full, and we'll make it available to you for your donation of any amount. When you give your gift at, we'll send you this 8-DVD set and give you digital access to all 60 messages and the digital study guide. So give your gift today at We learned today that Jesus is our substitute. Was he the substitute for everybody or just some?

And if for everybody, does that mean everyone goes to heaven? Join us next Saturday as R.C. Sproul helps us answer those questions, here on Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-13 03:58:28 / 2023-05-13 04:07:29 / 9

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