The sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross were substitutionary sufferings. The word “substitutionary” is going to be explained today in our program. It is one of the most important words in the Christian faith. It is a word that the church has picked out in order to express clearly what actually happened upon the cross; to express clearly for whom Jesus Christ suffered; but also to express very clearly what Jesus Christ did for them when He suffered on the cross.
Substitutionary sufferings are the truth of the Bible that Jesus Christ died in the place of those, and those only, whom the Father had given to Him. Substitutionary sufferings express the truth of the Bible not only that Jesus suffered for those given Him by the Father, but also that the nature of the suffering was such that He actually took their place and bore what they had coming in such a way that it can never be inflicted upon them again.
Substitutionary sufferings are the truth that the sufferings of Jesus Christ avail, are powerful, and actually have accomplished eternal salvation. Jesus Christ would not die on the cross to obtain a mere possibility of salvation. Jesus Christ, by dying as the substitute-in the place of others-has actually obtained salvation for them, a salvation which can never, ever be lost. For all who belong to this Jesus Christ, by a true faith, shall never perish. And they shall never perish because Jesus suffered for them.
I said we are going to explain at this time the word “substitutionary.” It is a precious and wonderful word of the gospel. In fact, it is an earmark. It is a touchstone. It is an indicator of orthodox, correct, biblical truth. It is also a word that brings controversy. It does battle against the false teaching that Jesus Christ died for all, and the false teaching that Christ’s death was simply to gain a possibility for salvation if man would yet add his own part. That is not the truth of the Bible.
The Bible certainly does teach that man must believe. The Bible teaches that that faith is the gift of God that the Holy Spirit works in him. And it is through believing that one is brought on the way of salvation. But faith is not the reason for salvation. We are saved because of Jesus’ death upon the cross-a death in the place of His children whom God elected. Those children of God are brought to faith. And through that faith they have the assurance of salvation.
This is a biblical teaching. This is the teaching of God’s Word, the Bible. In I Peter 3:18 we read these words concerning the death of Jesus Christ: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins.…” That is important. That means that this suffering upon the cross was a suffering that is once-for-all. It never needs be repeated again.
The verse continues: “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” Note the words: “the just.” That is, Jesus Christ was the Just One. He stood perfectly innocent before God, just as God wanted Him to be. Well, the Just One died for the unjust. The unjust are those who are guilty and fallen and sinners of themselves. He died for, or, literally, in the place of or instead of, the unjust. You see, the death of Jesus Christ was in the nature of His taking the place of others. And taking the place of others in such a way that they will never endure what Jesus endured on the cross for them when He actually stood in their place.
We read again, in Titus 2:14, these words concerning the Savior, Jesus Christ: “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” He gave Himself for us, in the place of us, the elect and chosen of God, those whom the Father had given to Him. And His death means that He has redeemed, He has actually purchased, something as His own.
Still more. We have the very clear words of Jesus Christ in John 10:11. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” He returns to that in verse 14: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” And in verse 15, “As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Concerning those sheep, as to who they are, Jesus Christ says the following in verses 28ff.: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.” The sheep, said Jesus, are those whom the Father gave to Me. The Lord returned to that again in John 17, His beautiful prayer. He prays to the Father and says, “those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition” (v. 12). That is, Jesus Christ preserved and kept all those whom the Father had entrusted to Him out of a gracious election. They are the sheep, and for the sheep Jesus laid down His life.
This is the heart of the gospel. The heart of the gospel is found in a correct understanding of the word “substitutionary,” a word which means “in the place of another.” You must not leave this broadcast today without understanding that word, that precious word. Substitutionary, in the place of another, instead of or in the behalf of others.
Jesus Christ, when He suffered upon the cross, did not suffer for His own sins or misdeeds. There were none. God said so. Pontius Pilate, who judged Him, conceded the point: “I find no fault in Him.” And Jesus Christ repeatedly affirmed to the Jews that He had no sin. He said to them in John 8 that none of them could accuse Him of any sin. He said to Annas the high priest as He was tried before Him (in John 18), “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil.” They could not find a witness concerning any sin or misdeed that He had ever performed. The Bible declares that He knew no sin. There was no iniquity to be found in Him.
Now Jesus Christ suffered upon the cross. Why? He did not suffer for His own sins, His own misdeeds. Then why did He suffer? For whose sins did He suffer? The answer of the Bible is, He suffered for the sins of the sheep, for His people, for our sins; the sins of the people of gracious election; the sins of those who, by the Holy Spirit, are made to be burdened with their sin and brought to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ. His suffering was the actual sufferings that were due to them, the sufferings that had their name written on them.
I wish now to be as plain as I possibly can be. We stand before God. And when we are summoned to the bar of God’s justice, the case against us is very clear and indisputable. We have sinned and come short of the glory of God ( Rom. 3). We are guilty. And we are guilty before God of the most heinous offense in the universe: we have rebelled against the good God. We have hated the Holy One. And the sentence that is due to us is equally clear and indisputable. That sentence is death, eternal death and curse. The words “Depart from Me, ye cursed” are words which we deserve not only to hear, but to have executed upon us. According to justice, that is, God’s own holy being, it is demanded that our sins be punished, and punished with exactly what it deserves: everlasting fire and damnation in hell. There is no plea that we could render. There is no excuse, no argument of ignorance or extenuating circumstances. We stand undone and condemned before God.
But then, out of grace alone, one arose for us. A mighty one, a noble one. And He spoke before the bar of divine justice. One arose for us whom God had given out of grace and mercy. And that One, Jesus Christ, said before the bar of God’s justice, “Lay on Me the guilt of My people. Strike Me down with their punishment. Look upon Me as the One who has performed all of those heinous crimes.” He was made to be sin for us (II Cor. 5:21), in order that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
But we ask the question: How can it be that our punishment is laid upon Him? Divine justice answers that question: “I have made My Son like unto you. I have now placed Him in your stead. I have made Him like unto you, yet without sin.” He did not sin. Yet He was a man among men, He was appointed by Jehovah to be the head and representative of Jehovah’s children. Jesus Christ, then, was sinless. But He was constituted by God the Head of the elect and in His hands, in the hands of Jesus Christ, God placed a scroll. Written on that scroll are the names of all those written in the Lamb’s book of eternal life. “All that the Father gave to Me, I will now represent in the judgment of the cross.” Jesus Christ descended into their punishment, took upon Him the awful flames of the wrath which were due to us. And He bore them away! And in the place of that punishment He left His perfect obedience, righteousness, and holiness. It is that righteousness, obedience, and holiness which is graciously rendered to our account.
Oh, praise God for substitutionary atonement!
That means that something was done for us upon the cross-something which can never be erased. Jesus Christ gained something for us. He endured something for us that we will never have to endure because He endured it for us.
You see, Jesus Christ did not die as an example of what God might do, what God will do if man does not repent. That presentation of the gospel is false and unbiblical and makes the sufferings of Jesus Christ worthless, meaningless, cruel, and pointless. Jesus Christ did not suffer to make possible salvation upon the condition of some act of man yet to be performed. He did not die simply as an example of what God is going to do if man does not shape up and do a little better. No, He died in the place of others to obtain something for them which can never be lost-something that He gives to them through faith. He died in order to set us free from something which can never be laid to our account again. He died to free us from condemnation. Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” That word condemnation is a severe word. It is the sentence for sin, that means to be sentenced and cast into hell and there to die without hope or remorse. There is no condemnation for the child of God. Why? Because Jesus Christ bore that condemnation in their place. And Jesus Christ arose again with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And that gift is faith, whereby we believe in Jesus. He earned eternal life and righteousness and the favor of God. This is substitutionary suffering.
And that makes the cross our glory. What a Savior, what a grace!
Do you see Him bound in the Garden? Those ropes with which He was bound were the ropes which belonged to us. He was bound so that we might be freed, in order that we might wear the bracelets of holiness at His table.
Do you see Him beaten? Do you see Him slapped upon the face and spit upon? Do you see His back bloodied? That was in order that we might be presented to God without spot or wrinkle.
Do you see Him hanged upon a cross, naked before His insulting foes who cast lots for His garments? That was so that all who belonged to Him might never be naked before God but clothed in the righteousness of eternal life.
Do you see His sorrow, lifelong, crushing? Do you see Him as a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief? That was in order that you, as a child of God, might obtain joy and gladness and might enter into a place where sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
He poured out His soul unto death in order that all those whom the Father had given to Him might pour out their hearts unto God in praise, world without end.
I am assured that the curse due to my sin which lay upon me, Jesus took upon Himself on the cross. And He took it upon Himself in such a way that that curse can never be inflicted upon me. That is marvelous.
The sufferings of Jesus Christ culminated in His being crucified. As a mighty stream winding to the ocean, so all of His sufferings led Him to the cross, to the hour, to the place marked out by God where atonement and sacrifice for sin would be made. He could die no other way but the way of the cross. His enemies once had tried to push Him off a cliff, but He walked through their midst. At other times they took up stones to stone Him, but they could not do it that way. They had instructed Judas Iscariot earlier in the week not to take Him on the feast day for they did not want an uproar among the people. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ is taken to the cross because God had erected the cross before the world began. God had chosen that this would be the way whereby atonement, payment, would be made for His children. God created the whole world, the earth, as a platform on which He would erect the cross so that all looking to it might see Christ and be saved.
God called the world into being, He created the earth, He sent forth His Son, He gave to His Son a detailed path to walk, He entrusted to His Son all the chosen from all eternity. And upon the cross of Calvary, on a hill called Golgotha, He obtained their salvation.
Why would God do that? Why would He do that for those who are utterly unworthy of God’s favor and worthy only of wrath? Why did He go there so willingly and so eagerly? The only answer to that question is because of the love of God. He loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2:20). I am assured that I will never be driven out by God because of the cross. How wonderful that the Son of God loved me. Think of it! In all of His sufferings in this life, in His death, and in the uttermost sufferings even upon the cross, He loved me and gave Himself for me. Now I may know that in all of my sufferings: death, pain, sickness, and sorrow, I know that God is not punishing me. He may chasten me for my sins, but that is out of His love. God shall never inflict upon me His unbearable wrath. I know that. I know that, in all of my sufferings, it must only come to my blessing. I must know, and I do know, that all of these things sanctify me. They teach me to live closer to my God. I know that. I know that from the holy gospel, which proclaims to me the substitutionary sufferings of Jesus Christ.
I am assured that, come life or death, health or sickness, loneliness or family life, pain or anguish, nothing will separate me from the love of God. How do I know that? I know that because my Savior suffered and was made a curse for me, taking my place upon the cross so that all the storm clouds of the wrath due to my sins are forever gone.
Now mine is the sunshine of God’s grace.
Believest thou these things? Blessed are they who believe.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word so precious and mighty. We pray that it may sink down into our hearts that we may see the wonder and the power of the death of Jesus Christ. In His name do we pray, Amen.