“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.” – Deuteronomy 21:22-23
“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.'” – Galatians 3:13
I came across this passage in reading Deuteronomy today (and thought about its fulfillment in Galatians 3:13) and it got me to thinking in light of the saddening and disheartening revelation concerning The Shack author William P. Young’s denial of substitutionary atonement: Did Jesus commit any crime punishable by death at all? No, we all say together, He was sinless. Yet He willingly gave Himself over to a criminals death based upon this passage in Deuteronomy, right? Right. So if He was sinless, why was He condemned to this awful punishment? It must be that it was for someone other than Himself, for there is no other explanation, other than those that fall infinitely short of a satisfactorily Biblical answer. For whose crime was He willingly entering into and suffering then? The undeniable answer of the Bible is He suffered for sinners who admit their guilt and believe in the only name of the Son of God, resting in His work alone on their behalf to save them. Romans 3:21-26 is the best place to see this great news.
He suffered our penalty in our place and as a result, brought about our reconciliation, for what else was the main point and effect of the cross? A mere display of selflessness by God that we should imitate? Surely it was that, but yet so much more! Was it an example to model? Surely, yet so much more! Was it a triumph in the face of evil? Absolutely, and yet again, so much more! The cross was primarily an atonement, a sacrifice, a propitiation. What exactly is this penalty that we all deserve that Christ bore? It is the curse of God, that is the wrath of God against all our godlessness and wickedness of we who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. This is you and I.
On the cross, Jesus suffered the place of sinners the eternal hell we deserve and credited us with His perfect life’s record. That is the main effect. This work has been called the Great Exchange for exactly this reason. Jesus bore the penalty that I was owed, the curse of God on the cross, in which He cries out to the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) He who deserved the highest honor was forsaken by the Father for us so that we could be brought near to God. Our reconciliation was made possible by Jesus’ suffering our just punishment from the Father. Paul makes this so clear: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” – Romans 3:23-26
This is simply undeniable in the Scriptures and astounding! Taste and see what great grace is contained in the work of the cross for your soul, both for eternal life and right now in becoming like Him by His power, that our God should suffer our condemnation instead of us and credit us with His perfect work! What a wonder! The Son was stricken, smitten and afflicted by the Father that we should be brought near to God and experience and participate in His glory forever, the very thing for which we were made! And how sad it is that Young would deny this truth. May we all pray he sees this. Isaiah 53 is the clearest picture of this atoning sacrifice of which Christ would be its fulfillment.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6 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.
7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
– Isaiah 53:4-12
The cross of Christ is not merely a display of God’s love toward sinners; it is a Work of His love with an actual effect: the salvation of sinners from what justice demanded, all the while maintaining God’s justice. So many songs we sing together in worship to the Lord clearly display this truth of penal substitutionary atonement. It is an unmistakable truth in the Scriptures. And when we get together, we can’t help but sing this truth, for we know this is our joy together in the Gospel as a community of believers. We have been healed by His wounds and can have eternal life because of His sacrificial, substitutionary death on the cross. This atonement is not something separate from forgiveness, it is that through which forgiveness is made possible.
Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted – Thomas Kelly, 1804
And Can It Be That I Should Gain? – Charles Wesley, 1738