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.
The cross of Christ declares that our sin has gravity. It is sobering in the weight of its badness. We may think it is not so bad, but the cross declares that it is much worse than we think. We may think that God is a great absent-minded grandfather in the sky, who is forgetful about our little foibles, but this is far from true. He is the ancient of days, the creator of all things, all-knowing and all-powerful. He acts decisively on His own schedule for His purposes. If you are in Christ, you have been rescued from a very just and a very certain weight of tremendous wrath and justice.
With others, their suffering can become a badge of honor by which they can boast and best your suffering. They want to impress others with the fact that they are better because they have suffered more. With Jesus it is never so. His suffering serves to make Him all the more compassionate. In fact, He wears His suffering on into His resurrected body (John 20:27), and by His scars we recognize Him. He stands on the very throne of God as a lamb who was slain because He will forever be the compassionate savior who understands what we have been through.
The atonement we most need is the atonement that assumes we can do nothing to reform ourselves or ingratiate ourselves in some successful two-way relationship. It assumes, not that we are powerful and able to change, but that we are lost and hopeless, that we can do nothing to atone. It assumes, not that we can make up for our sins, but that our guilt is built up hanging over head like an eternal black cloud. It assumes that we need to be saved, not reformed.
Faith says that the blood of Jesus satisfies justice for every little thing we do wrong, all the time. Faith says that I always feel inadequate because I really am inadequate, but that I am saved through His cross from all of these judgements that daily accuse me. My thoughts are no longer bound up in the fear that I am inadequate and sinful and unworthy, but instead my thought is constantly that I am worthy of God’s death.
So we find the entire Jewish religious practice to be a picture of Christ. It isn’t simply that Jesus acted out a few isolated predictions from the Old Testament. It is that their entire culture was predicated on the coming of a Messiah who would be our savior through His own sacrifice. Their whole culture was law and gospel, morals and blood atonement.
In every case, the question is this: is your salvation final? Are you eternally loved, forever accepted? Are there any conditions to your favor and acceptance by the Father? The cross of Christ declares that our judgement is complete and finished. Jesus Himself declared from the cross, that it is finished. You are now the one in the judgement seat, and God is on trial. Was He right, or was He wrong? Is the cross of Christ sufficient to save you? What deed of yours, good or bad, will you place above His death for you?