Book 2 Chapter 16 Section 1-19
Having spent a good few weeks now meditating on the incarnation, person and offices of Christ, I feel as if that there is enough mystery in these truths to spend the rest of our lives in wonder and study and still never plumb their depths. And yet this is only the beginning of the story. It is as if we have been going through the first few chapters of a biography and have only covered the scene-setting for what is to come as the main part of the life story. We all want our lives to mean something, to have some greater significance, but we have here a man who lived the first 30 years of His life in obscurity. A man who knew the most significant act He would do would be His death – He really lived to die.
Thus, in this chapter Calvin describes the impact of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Calvin describes the following important aspects of Christ’s death:
1. His voluntary subjection. Of His own free will Christ came to earth, laid down His life and gave up His Spirit (John 10.15+18, 19.30). Christ chose to come, He chose to go to the cross, He chose to be a willing sacrifice. The Father did not force Jesus to do anything, He acted in willful submission to the divine will, for it is impossible for their to be any disunity in the Trinity. Christ cast away all care of Himself that He might provide for us. He even “submitted to be condemned by a mortal, nay a wicked and profane man” – in the form of Pontius Pilate. Although He could command all the legions of angels to His defense, instead He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, silent and submissive before a blasphemous mob.
2. Condemned as a criminal. Calvin makes the point that “in order to remove our condemnation, it was not sufficient to endure any kind of death. To satisfy our ransom, it was necessary to select a mode of death in which He might deliver us, both by giving Himself up to condemnation, and undertaking our expiation. Had he been cut off by assassins…there could have been no kind of satisfaction in such a death. But when He is placed as a criminal at the bar, where witnesses are brought to give evidence against Him, and the mouth of the judge condemns Him to die, we see Him sustaining the character of an offender and evil-doer.” Calvin concludes that “thus we perceive Christ representing the character of a sinner and a criminal, while at the same time, His innocence shines forth, and it becomes manifest that He suffers for another’s and not His own crime.”
3. A propitiatory victim. Here Calvin focusses on the method of Jesus’ death – the cross. He died a death that was cursed in Jewish tradition – “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21.23). He was the fulfillment of the sacrificial system, which had been established as a purification for sin. By bearing the just punishment for all our sin, and even becoming sin for us (1 Peter 2.24), Christ through the imputation of our wickedness was offered to the Father as a propitiatory victim. But Calvin reminds us that we should not think that the curse of the cross overwhelmed Him, but rather “by enduring it He repressed, broke and annihilated all its force.”
Calvin concludes by lifting our eyes to the wonder and glory of the cross, for rather than it being the reason for our defeat, it is the centerpiece of our victory. For “faith apprehends acquittal in the condemnation of Christ, and blessing in His curse.” The Apostle Paul even celebrates the triumph which Christ obtained upon the cross “as if the symbol of ignominy, had been converted into a triumphal chariot.”
We are now at the heart of God’s plan to rescue His children from their rebellion. The death of Christ describes the means whereby God was able to both judge sin and forgive sinners whilst retaining His integrity. In the first few chapters of Book 3 we will learn how this act becomes effective in reconciling us to God through the channel of faith.
Unfortunately some Christians today feel uncomfortable with the idea of Jesus’ death being a wrath-appeasing sacrifice. I admit that it is a difficult truth to comprehend. How could the Father ask His only Son to undergo such pain and suffering? How could He think to sacrifice His only Son – the uncreated for the sake of the created? But this is the true love of God, the costly, self-sacrificing love of God.
Looking back to what God asked Abraham to do in sacrificing Isaac, what appears to be madness suddenly becomes a clear picture of what God Himself was going to do – sacrifice His only Son. What Abraham was asked to do but stopped from completing, God the Father carried through to its conclusion.
It seems to me that we should not question God’s actions as a Father towards His own Son. We who are fathers sometimes have to make impossible decisions that no one else can make. But if we being imperfect reflections of the divine Father seek to do what is right, then will not the true and perfect Father always act with the utmost honour and integrity? Rather than cast doubt on what the bible clearly teaches we should recognise our distorted view of love and confess our wonder that the Father, Son and Spirit would go to such lengths for creatures such as us.
“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Colossians 2.15
Father, we praise you that you were willing to give up your one and only Son to the disgrace of the cross and Jesus we praise you that you were willing and obedient to do all that the Father asked. Help us to cling to the victory you gained by becoming a curse for us. Amen.