Good morning! Today we begin a new sermon series called, “What’s So Special about the Cross.” We’re going to examine four very wonderful things God did that made our salvation possible. The first is called “Substitution”. Let me put this word up on our cross.
We all know what a substitution is - it’s exchanging one thing for another. In most cases we think about the substitute as second best, but that’s not what happened on the cross.
When Adam and Eve and you and I decide to disobey God and sin against him, we are in reality rejecting his sovereignty and setting ourselves in opposition to him. We are in truth declaring war against him, his will and the coming of his kingdom. That’s a big deal!
When we do this; we open ourselves up to the deceptions of Satan and his demons. We reject God’s holiness and worship depravity. Our conscience becomes diseased, hardened and twisted. We condemn others and justify ourselves. We become blind to the depravity within ourselves. The end result is predictable. It’s slavery, anarchy, war, and death.
We do our best to fix this situation in our own power and wisdom, but without the Lord, our solutions inevitably make things worse rather than better. So what do we do with the mess we’ve made of our world, our marriages, our families, our own lives?
One of the reasons many people don’t like reading the Bible is that the Bible says it like it is. According to the Bible, the problem is rooted in our disobedience before God. The Bible says death is the only solution for the disease of sin. “The soul that sins shall die.” Ezek 18:20
Human sin puts God in a terrible dilemma. He loves us, but he is also absolutely just and holy. God is under no obligation to save sinful people. But He is by nature, obligated to punish sin. Sin and God cannot co-exist.
So God had a choice to make. He decided to intervene on our behalf. He chose to find a way for sinful people to be forgiven and have their righteousness restored. Once God made that decision it was all up to him. He must act alone, there was nothing we could do to merit or assist him in the work of our salvation. It all depended on him.
God, himself, must provide a substitute sacrifice to take the punishment of our sin upon himself, bear the curse that goes with sin, shed his holy blood and die in our place.
But where would God find a sinless substitute? The blood of animals couldn’t do this. No human who had ever lived would qualify. God himself must become a man and live a sinless life and then willingly exchange it, substitute himself in our place under the righteous judgment of God. It would be a divine mission, instituted in heaven from first to last for the sake of our salvation.
And so began the great transaction. The story begins in Genesis and stretches all the way through the Bible to the last chapter of Revelation. The focal point is the cross of Jesus.
God’s plan begins unfolding in Gen 3. Adam and Eve have sinned. Shame has taken control of their lives. They are hiding from God and from each other. They are powerless to undo what they have done. So the Lord God enters the Garden and calls them to himself.
He warns them of the consequences of their behavior, and then he provides a way for them to survive. He sheds the blood of some of his innocent animals to make robes to cover their shame. In the same way, Jesus was stripped naked on the cross and his robe was given to a sinner. His blood shed on the cross became a garment of salvation to cover our shame. This is the first evidence of God’s substitutionary atonement to deal with the problem of sin.
The next picture is in Genesis 22. A man named Abraham and his wife, Sarah, have been given a son, a miraculous son who they named “laughter”, Isaac. He is the joy of their lives.
Then one day, the LORD tells Abraham to go 3 days journey north to perform a sacrifice. He tells Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Gen 22:2
So Abraham goes. Why? I don’t know. He seems to have more faith than I possess. Did Sarah know what the Lord asked her husband to do? I don’t know! What we do know is that Abraham obeyed and went. Isaac is probably a teenager, a very strong young man.
When they arrive the Lord tells Abraham to take Isaac and climb to the top of the ridge - the exact spot where 2000 years later, God will take his One and Only Son, Jesus, whom he loves and offer him as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sin.
As Abraham and Isaac climb the mountain to the place of sacrifice, Isaac asks his father. “Dad, here’s the wood and the fire, but where is the lamb?” Abraham answers, “God himself will provide the lamb…” and the two of them continue climbing up the mountain together.
When they reach the top, Isaac and his father gather the stones and build an altar. They arrange the wood. Then he binds Isaac and lays him on the altar. Why didn’t Isaac fight back? Why does he allow his father to do this? It reminds me of what Paul writes In Phil 2. “Jesus laid down his heavenly glory and became obedient to his father even to death on a cross.”
Abraham pulled out his knife and is about to plunge it into his son’s heart. But the angel of the LORD, Jesus, calls out to him from heaven. “Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Didn’t the Lord know Abraham would go through with this? Certainly he did. Then why test him in this way? Here’s what happens next. Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by the horns. He went over and took the ram and substituted it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham called the place. “The LORD will Provide.” Jehovah Jireh
This event prompted a proverb in Israel. “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” What mountain? The exact spot where a cross would be erected 2000 years later! What would be provided? A substitute! A sacrificial atonement! The word atonement means at-one-ment. The act by which God takes what sin has separated and brings it together again.
God provides the substitute sacrifice of one life for another. The ram died in Isaac’s place and Isaac goes free. This story would become hardwired into the DNA of Israel, even though most of Israel and many people today still refuse to make the connection with Jesus.
Many people today object to the idea of sacrifice and shedding of blood. But redemption can only be achieved in one way – the shedding of blood. The Lord told his people in Lev 17:11 “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” Lev 17:11
Satan does everything in his power to deny this reality. He tempts us to believe that God is too loving and nice to ever do things this way. While God is merciful and loving, God is also holy and just. The truth is, God’s justice is our only salvation in our battle with evil.
From Abraham we jump ahead 600 years. Israel is in slavery in Egypt. They cry out for the Lord to deliver them from the evil that is destroying them. And the Lord responds. But their deliverance involves not just God’s mercy but also his justice. In Ex 12, he tells his people.
“I’m coming to judge the sins of Egypt and Israel. On the night when my judgement passes over Egypt, you must take the blood of a perfect lamb and put it on the doorposts and over the door on your house. Where I see the blood, I will pass over that house.”
For the next 1400 years, Israel celebrated this Passover every year. But most of them failed to see that this event looked forward to the cross where God’s judgment would pass over everyone who takes refuge by faith under blood of Jesus shed on the cross for us.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming down the hill to be baptized, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Isaiah wrote that all our sins were placed on him and his righteousness was given to us as a gift to be received by faith. In Rev, the final book of the Bible, there is a scene is heaven where a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, is reigning as king. We learn this Lamb is none other than Jesus, the Son of God.
A fountain is there filled with the blood of this Lamb and the saints around the throne are wearing white robes that they have washed and made white in the blood of Jesus.
Let me close with these words. God is not obligated to save us. We deserve destruction. God is holy and absolutely just. God and sin cannot co-exit. Though he did not have to, God chose to save us through an incredible act of substitution.
Once he made that decision, it was all up to him. He must act alone. There was nothing we could do to merit his salvation or assist him in what would be required. It all depended on him. The only way our salvation could be achieved was by a substitute sacrifice and only Jesus qualified. God’s one and only Son must become man and so he did.
He willingly obeyed his father and put himself in our place under the righteous wrath and judgment of God. The holy one of heaven took the curse that belonged to us. Where are you placing your faith this morning? Your own righteousness? You have none. Or Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! If you have never trusted Jesus for your salvation; do it now! Next Sunday, What’s So Special about the Cross #2 “Satisfaction”