«TOGETHER FOR THE GOSPEL PROCLAIMING A CROSS-CENTERED THEOLOGY Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan III, R. Albert Mohler Jr., C. J. Mahaney Contributions by ...»
Andrew’s, as an illustration. The church is built in a classical style called the cruciform. If it is viewed from the air, the shape of our building forms a cross. Those who walk down the center aisle are reminded of the vertical piece of the cross. I tell my congregation to let it remind them of propitiation. In propitiation the Son does something to satisfy the justice and the wrath of the Father. It is a vertical translation, which was prefigured in the sacrifice made on the mercy seat.
Let’s not forget the other animal that liberal theologians try every which way to erase from the biblical record. I’m speaking of the goat, the scapegoat, which became the object of imputation when the priest lay his hands on the back of the animal, symboliR. C. Sproul cally indicating the transfer of the guilt of the people to the back of the goat. Afterward the goat was driven into the wilderness, outside the camp. In the middle of the camp, equidistant to every settlement of every tribe, was the tabernacle, which indicated that God was in the midst of his people. So to be driven out of camp, outside the covenant community, was to be driven to the place where the blessings of God did not reach. That’s what Christ did for us in expiation.
When on the cross, not only was the Father’s justice satisfied by the atoning work of the Son, but in bearing our sins the Lamb of God removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west.
He did it by being cursed. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13). He who is the incarnation of the glory of God became the very incarnation of the divine curse.
Many years ago I was asked by the Quaker community of Pennsylvania, the Society of Friends, to come to one of their meetings and explain to them the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant. I talked about the Day of Atonement in Israel and the crucifixion of Christ in the New Testament. As I spoke of Christ becoming cursed, my message was interrupted by a guy in the back who stood up and shouted, “That’s primitive and obscene!” I was taken aback, and just to give myself a chance to think I said, “What did you say?” as if I hadn’t heard him. (Everybody in the room heard him.) With great hostility he repeated himself, so I told him that I loved the words he’d chosen. What could be more primitive than killing animals and placing the blood over the throne of God or taking a human being and pouring out his blood as a human sacrifice? One of the things I love about the gospel is that it wasn’t written merely for an agnostic elite group of scholars. The drama of redemption is communicated in terms so simple, so crass and primitive, that a child can understand it. I really like the second word he
THE CURSE MOTIF OF THE ATONEMENTused—obscene. If there ever was an obscenity that violates contemporary community standards, it was Jesus on the cross. After he became the scapegoat and the Father had imputed to him every sin of every one of his people, the most intense, dense concentration of evil ever experienced on this planet was exhibited. Jesus was the ultimate obscenity.
So what happened? God is too holy to look at sin. He could not bear to look at that concentrated monumental condensation of evil, so he averted his eyes from his Son. The light of his countenance was turned off. All blessedness was removed from his Son, whom he loved, and in its place was the full measure of the divine curse.
All the imagery that betrays the historical event of the cross is the imagery of the curse. It was necessary for the Scriptures to be fulfilled that Jesus not be crucified by Jews; he had to be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles. He had to be executed not by stoning but by Gentiles outside the camp so that the full measure of the curse and the darkness that attends it be visited upon Jesus.
Forsaken God adds to these details astronomical perturbations. At midday he turned the lights out on the hill outside of Jerusalem so that when his face moved away, when the light of his countenance shut down, even the sun couldn’t shine on Calvary. Bearing the full measure of the curse, Christ screamed, “Eli, Eli lema sabachthani,” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
Jesus took that occasion to identify with the psalmist in Psalm 22 in order to call attention to those looking upon the spectacle that what they were witnessing was really a fulfillment of prophecy.
I don’t think Jesus was in a Bible-quoting mood at the time. His cry was not, as Albert Schweitzer opined, the cry of a disillusioned prophet who had believed that God was going to rescue him at the eleventh hour and then felt forsaken. He didn’t just feel forsaken;
142 R. C. Sproul he was forsaken. For Jesus to become the curse, he had to be completely forsaken by the Father.
As I said, I’ve been thinking about these things for fifty years, and I can’t begin to penetrate all it meant for Jesus to be forsaken by God. But there is none of that to be found in the pseudo-gospels of our day. Every time I hear a preacher tell his people that God loves them unconditionally, I want to ask that the man be defrocked for such a violation of the Word of God. What pagan does not hear in that statement that he has no need of repentance, so he can continue in sin without fear, knowing that it’s all taken care of? There is a profound sense in which God does love people even in their corruption, but they are still under his anathema.
The Gospel—Our Only Hope Just because a man is ordained is no guarantee that he is in the kingdom of God. The odds are astronomical that many are still under the curse of God. There are ordained men who have not yet fled to the cross, who are still counting on the nebulous idea of the unconditional love of God to get them through, or even worse, still thinking that they can get into the kingdom of God through their good works. They don’t understand that unless they perfectly obey the law of God, which they have not done for five minutes since they were born, they are under the curse of God. That is the reality we must make clear to our people—either they will bear the curse of God themselves or they will flee to the One who took it for them.
Thomas Aquinas once was asked whether he thought that Jesus enjoyed the beatific vision throughout his whole life. Thomas said, “I don’t know, but I’m sure that our Lord was able to see things that our sin keeps us from seeing.” Remember that the promise of the vision of God in the Beatitudes is the promise made to the pure of heart. The reason why we can’t see God with our eyes is not that we have a problem with our optic nerve. What prevents us from seeing God is our heart, our impurity. But Jesus had no impurity. So
THE CURSE MOTIF OF THE ATONEMENTobviously he had some experience of the beauty of the Father until that moment that our sin was placed upon him, and the One who was pure was pure no more, and God cursed him.
It was as if there was a cry from heaven, as if Jesus heard the words “God damn you,” because that’s what it meant to be cursed and under the anathema of the Father. I don’t understand that, but I know that it’s true. I know that every person who has not been covered by the righteousness of Christ draws every breath under the curse of God. If you believe that, you will stop adding to the gospel and start preaching it with clarity and boldness, because, dear