Double Trouble for Sinners
I vividly recall the sense of accomplishment I felt as a little kid when I completed my first chapter book. The name of the book was Double Trouble for Rupert, but I can’t remember what Rupert’s double trouble was. What I do know is that every sinner has their own double trouble before God. We all had (or have) two barriers keeping us out of God’s kingdom. The first barrier is our own sin, which is why atonement is necessary. Three biblical (i.e., original language) terms help us define the doctrine of atonement. The first term, caphar, is a liturgical word that relates primarily to the worship of Israel. It was used to signify the need to cover sin and always included a sacrifice as a substitute. The second term, agorazō, comes from the NT and was taken from the marketplace. This word means to buy or purchase with a price. The final word, lutruō, was borrowed from the world of slave trade. It means to redeem, or to buy back out of slavery. Each of these three terms is used in the context of our sin problem, and each term provides us with insight into how sin is atoned for. When you combine these three concepts you come up with a helpful definition of atonement:
The work of atonement is the sacrificial work of a substitute that is sufficient enough to cover the blemish of sin and to pay the price of redemption.
When we apply this definition to the atonement of the cross, we learn that Christ died as a substitutionary sacrifice to cover our sin and pay the price for our freedom from sin.
A second, and often neglected, barrier between us and God is God’s holy wrath toward our sin. Our sin has to be dealt with before we can enter into God’s kingdom, and so does God’s righteous wrath. God cannot permit sinners into his kingdom, but even after He has covered their sins He cannot allow sin to go unpunished. It would be a violation of His holy justice to ignore the consequences of sin, which is why we need someone to bear our wrath. Thankfully, as Mark 15:33-36 demonstrates, this is exactly what Jesus has done for His people:
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”
In addition to dealing with our sin, Jesus also absorbed God’s wrath. At the cross Jesus bore the brunt of God’s judgment and experienced the separation we deserve. He absorbed the infinite wrath of God until He satisfied God’s holy justice. By doing this Jesus fulfilled the plan prophetically revealed in Isaiah 53:4-6:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 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.
Jesus was vicariously stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, chastised, and wounded for sinners. The wrath that you and I earned, He bore. The punishment that you and I deserve, He carried.
When my daughters were younger they loved to ride their princess scooters through the neighborhood. For several blocks they would furiously propel their scooter down the sidewalk with great delight. However, once we reached the halfway point of our excursion, the same thing always happened. No matter how many times I would warn them to save their energy, they always fizzled out when we were furthest away from the house. With eyes wearied by exhaustion, they would look at me and say, “Dad, will you carry my scooter home.” And so, for one summer, every family walk ended with dad carrying two princess scooters over his shoulders.
On the cross, Jesus shouldered our load. When we were furthest away from God, He bore our wrath and brought us home into the family of God. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus called sinners to himself with these words:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
This promise is busting at the seams with comfort and strength for the Christian, but at the heart of this promise is the fact that Christ absorbed God’s wrath on our behalf. His substitutionary work opened the floodgates of this promise; the burden of Christ is light for us because He bore the burden of our sin.
Paul Shirley is a graduate of The Expositors Seminary and has served as the pastor of Grace Community Church in Wilmington, Delaware since 2011.