However, as believers in Christ we do not come together in assembly just because we are supposed to. We come together because the blood of Jesus brings us together. It is our community. We are all partakers of the grand scandal of forgiveness in Christ.
This was why the “Lord Lord didn’t I” people in the sermon on the Mount were turned away. They equated virtue with earning the bestowal of favor. The cross of Christ severs this tie completely. It says, when you do right, you will be rejected and crucified. It says, if you want to be my disciple, you must bear the cross. The Father God will not necessarily step in and help you in the way and at the time that you think He must. We learn the secret of contentment at the point when it becomes evident that our virtue has not secured our blessing (Philippians 4:12-13).
So even if you affirm the truth of God’s wrath as a point of doctrine, you must come to the place where you celebrate it. You must see that He loves dearly and so He stands passionately and completely against anything that would harm us.
My contention is that ‘substitution’ is not a further ‘theory’ or ‘image’ to be set alongside the others, but rather the foundation of them all, without which each lacks cogency. If God in Christ did not die in our place, there could be neither propitiation, nor redemption, nor justification, nor reconciliation.
The idea of surprise is steeped in grace. If a gift is truly a surprise to someone, it means they didn’t ask for it. Yet, unbeknownst even to them, it is something which they would have badly wanted if they could have thought of it. Since it is a surprise, it is something which is all done on the initiative of the giver.
Why can’t we rest in the simplicity that the cross offers true and lasting mercy? Mercy is not simple, and there is nothing at all unimportant about the power of the forgiveness we have received in Christ. At the cross Jesus became just and the justifier; He has rolled away the stone of our reproach.
Here is the stunning thing about all of this: He wanted to do this for us! The Father was pleased to crush Him and put Him to grief, to render Him as a guilt offering (Isaiah 53:10). That is strange but for one thing: as a very great show of love for us, God Himself showed forth a very great and sacrificial gift. The greatness of the sacrifice is part of our assurance that we are very greatly loved.
I want to pause for a second here and ask a simple question. How hard could it be to open a scroll? It is a scroll. The question isn’t about insufficient force, it is about insufficient morals. If you think about it, a lamb standing as if slain is not exactly a symbol of superior force or even intelligence. Why didn’t anyone think to ask, “Why are we so hung up on worthiness? If this is so important, just OPEN IT. Who cares who opens it?” You know what is strange? Not one being said this.
If you think you have reached an acceptable level of moral success and have no need of redemption, your standard is too low. What is the right standard? The right standard is the cross of Christ.
Obedience is all about entering your rest (Hebrews 4:3). Obedience relieves me of the distress of being smart enough to create my own vision, developing my own resources, forging my own message, and in general inventing my own successful life. If I am inventing my own successful life, then whenever I am challenged, I have to make sure I have a strong enough plan to answer every objection. However, if I am simply being obedient to another, none of these things are my problem.