Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we areambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:18-20)
An ambassador is an official dignitary who represents the country that sent him into a foreign land, and his message is derived from the sending ruler. The Christian ambassador represents the Lord Jesus Christ who has called and equipped him to speak on His behalf to those outside of Christ’s kingdom (John 18:36; Acts 26:17-18; Col 1:13-14). The Christian message is simple, that God reconciles us to Himself through the cross of Christ (2 Cor 5:18-21; Eph 2:13-16; Col 1:19-20; 1 Pet 3:18), providing us forgiveness for all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col 1:13-14), eternal life (John 10:28), and the gift of righteousness which makes us acceptable to Him (Isa 61:10; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 5:17; Phil 3:9).
God does not have to be reconciled to man, because that was accomplished by Christ on the cross. It is sinful man who must be reconciled to God. “Religion” is man’s feeble effort to be reconciled to God, efforts that are bound to fail. The Person who reconciles us to God is Jesus Christ, and the place where He reconciles us is His cross.
As Christian ambassadors, “we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5). God always goes before us and providentially coordinates our meetings with others, working in their hearts to receive our message (John 16:7-11), and rescuing from Satan’s captivity those who believe the gospel (2 Cor 4:3-4; 2 Tim 2:26). God never forces Himself on anyone, but neither does He leave unpunished those who reject the Christian message (Rev 20:11-15). Those who disregard God’s gracious offer of salvation choose to continue in Satan’s world system (John 15:19; Rom 1:18-25; 1 John 2:15-17), selecting darkness rather than light (John 3:19-20), and choosing the path that leads to eternal destruction (Matt 7:13-14). As heavenly ambassadors we are responsible to present a clear biblical message, and though we may passionately seek to persuade, we are not accountable for how others respond to it.
As an ambassador of Christ, we are to speak and act with dignity at all times. We are to be clear in speaking God’s truth to people who are made in His image (fallen as they are). We are to point them to Christ that they might turn to Him for salvation and be born again to a new spiritual life (1 Pet 1:3, 23). We are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), “with grace” (Col 4:6), and “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15-16). There’s no place for hostility in the Christian life, for “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:20). Scripture tells us:
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:24-26).
Our behavior should be consistent with the One we claim to represent. Our primary message is, be reconciled to God. Reconciliation occurs when a person turns to Jesus as Savior, believing in Him, and accepting that His death on the cross satisfied all of the Father’s demands for our sin, and that Jesus overcame sin and death by His resurrection (1 Cor 15:3-4).
Frederick William Pitt (1859-1943) was a pastor in London who was known for his doctrinal writings and poetry/hymns. This thoughtful hymn, The Maker of the Universe, captures truth pertaining to the hypostatic union, that Christ is fully God and man.
The Maker of the UniverseAs man for man was made a curse;The claims of laws which He had made,Unto the uttermost He paid.His holy fingers made the boughWhich grew the thorns that crowned His brow.The nails that pierced his hands were minedIn secret places He designed;He made the forests whence there sprungThe tree on which His body hung.He died upon a cross of wood,Yet made the hill on which it stood.The sky that darkened o’er His headBy Him above the earth was spread;The sun that hid from Him its faceBy His decree was poised in space;The spear that spilled His precious bloodWas tempered in the fires of God.The grave in which His form was laidWas hewn in rock His hands had made;The throne on which He now appearsWas His from everlasting years;But a new glory crowns His brow,And every knee to Him shall bow.
It is in the understanding of the suffering and death of Christ that the sinner appreciates God’s great love and the price that was paid for his salvation. Christ suffered in place of the sinner, bearing the penalty that rightfully belonged to him. Scripture tells us that “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18a). Perhaps no section of Scripture in the Old Testament bears greater testimony to this truth than Isaiah 52:13 through 53:12, in which the prophet reveals the Messiah as the suffering Servant. Isaiah 53 is mentioned eight times in the New Testament as specifically referring to Christ, so that there is no mistake in the minds of the New Testament writers that the passage points to Jesus.
The New Testament writers quote eight specific verses as having been fulfilled in Jesus. Verse 1 (‘who has believed our message?’) is applied to Jesus by John (12:38). Matthew sees the statement of verse 4 (‘he took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’) as fulfilled in Jesus’ healing ministry (8:17). That we have gone astray like sheep (v. 6), but that by his wounds we have been healed (v. 5) are both echoed by Peter (1 Pet. 2:22-25), and so in the same passage are verse 9 (‘nor was any deceit found in his mouth’) and verse 11 (‘he will bear their iniquities’). Then verses 7 and 8, about Jesus being led like a sheep to the slaughter and being deprived of justice and of life, were the verses the Ethiopian eunuch was reading in his chariot, which prompted Philip to share with him ‘the good news about Jesus’ (Acts 8:30-35). Thus verses 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11 – eight verses out of the chapter’s twelve – are all quite specifically referred to Jesus.
Though Isaiah 53 is quoted most often in the New Testament, the section about the suffering Servant actually starts in Isaiah 52:13 and runs through to the end of chapter 53. Isaiah 52:13-15 appears to provide a summary of chapter 53, albeit in reverse order. Isaiah 52:13-15 reveals the Lord’s Servant first as successful, and then reveals His suffering and the beneficial results that follow. Then, in chapter 53, Isaiah reverses the order by first showing the Servant’s suffering in 53:1-9, and then His success and the beneficial results in 53:10-12.
Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men. Thus He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand. (Isa. 52:13-15)
God spoke through His prophet Isaiah and declared, “My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isa. 52:13). Christ came as God’s perfect Servant, as the One who always accomplished His will. A servant is one who faithfully executes the will of another, and Christ perfectly executed the will of God the Father. When God the Son came into the world and added to Himself perfect humanity, He declared “a body Thou hast prepared for Me” (Heb. 10:5); and once in hypostatic union, declared to His Father, “I have come to do your will” (Heb. 10:9). Regarding the Father’s will, Jesus stated, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (John 8:29). On the evening before His crucifixion Jesus declared, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). And, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42b). There has been only one perfect Servant in the history of the human race that has accomplished the will of God the Father in every way, and that is Jesus Christ.
The word “prosper” (Heb. sakal) has the idea of success based on prudence. It is God who declares His Servant a success, because His Servant accomplished His will, His way. From the world’s perspective, Jesus died as a common criminal, defeated and crucified by Roman soldiers. From God’s perspective, the cross was a planned and controlled event, as Christ was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23a). Christ knew He was accomplishing the Father’s will when facing His death, and “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). The result of Christ’s humble obedience to the Father was that “God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). Jesus’ death was an intelligent sacrifice, humbly executed. As a result of His obedience, “He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isa. 52:13).
After declaring that God’s Servant will “prosper…be high and lifted up and greatly exalted”, Isaiah then gave a stark contrast by saying, “His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men” (Isa. 52:14). The word “marred” (Heb. mishchath) means to be disfigured. Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus endured beatings and a scourging that so radically changed His appearance that had we stood at the foot of the cross and looked up, we would not have recognized Him. It is reported in the Gospel of Mark that when Jesus was arrested that “Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the officers received Him with slaps in the face” (Mark 14:65). Jesus then faced a corrupt trial before Pilate and “after having Jesus scourged, he [Pilate] handed Him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15). Jesus was then given to the Roman soldiers for more beatings before finally being nailed to the cross.
The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. (Mark 15:16-20)
Jesus’ face was bloody and swollen from His beatings and torn ribbons of flesh hung from His body as a result of the scourging. However, as brutal as it was, it was not His physical suffering that secured our salvation, but His spiritual suffering, in which He bore the sin of all mankind and died in our place. It should be remembered that Christ made no sound while being beaten, scourged and nailed to the cross (Isa. 53:7) and that it was not until He was on the cross bearing our sin that He cried out to His Father (Matt. 27:46).
The result of Christ’s suffering is that “He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand” (Isa. 52:15). Here is the work of Christ as Priest, cleansing many as the result of His suffering. The word “sprinkle” (Heb. nazah) was commonly used in connection with the Jewish priests concerning the consecration of objects and the cleansing of people (Lev. 8:11; 14:7). Through His suffering, Christ will provide cleansing and consecration to the “nations” (Heb. goyim), which is a reference to the Gentile nations of the world. “Because of the sacrifice of Christ, we can tell all the nations that forgiveness and redemption are offered free to all who will receive Him (1 Peter 1:1–2).” The rulers of the earth are silenced at the success of God’s humble Servant. This will be especially true at His Second Coming when Christ returns to establish His millennial kingdom on earth.
Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isa. 53:1-3)
Human reason leads to incredulity by those who seek to understand God’s strength through the weakness of His Servant. God’s thoughts and ways are infinitely higher than the thoughts and ways of men (Isa. 55:8-9), and the wisdom and power of God shines through the frailty of His Servant who surrenders Himself to accomplish His will. God displays His great power through an unassuming Man, His Servant, who is “like a tender shoot…a root out of parched ground” (Isa. 53:2a).
There is quite a contrast between “the arm of the Lord,” which speaks of mighty power, and “a root out of a dry ground,” which is an image of humiliation and weakness. When God made the universe, He used His fingers (Ps. 8:3); and when He delivered Israel from Egypt, it was by His strong hand (Ex. 13:3). But to save lost sinners, He had to bare His mighty arm! Yet people still refuse to believe this great demonstration of God’s power (Rom. 1:16; John 12:37–40).
A “root out of dry ground” means Jesus had no sustaining benefit from the soil of His human life. There was nothing in His environment that benefited or carried Him along from day to day. Jesus found no nourishment or support socially, politically, or even from His human family; God sustained His Servant by the Holy Spirit and the power of His Word (Matt. 3:16; 4:1-11). This is true for God’s children today, as the world provides no nourishment or sustaining benefit to the believer. The Christian is nourished spiritually by God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18), and sustained by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16; Eph. 5:18).
Isaiah tells us Jesus had “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isa. 53:2b). It seems from this passage that there was nothing in Jesus’ natural appearance that caused men to see anything exceptional in Him. He apparently had none of the outward qualities one might expect to see in royalty. He would never catch your eye if you passed Him on the street. Scripture reveals Jesus was born in a humble place and His youthful years were spent in the uncultured district of Nazareth (Luke 2:7-16; John 1:46), working in a dusty carpenter’s shop (Matt. 13:55). His poor cultural and educational background, coupled with his average human features, disqualified Him from advancing into any of the human systems of the time in which He lived, a time that put great stock in one’s appearance and education. One had to hear His words and see His miracles to comprehend His divine essence. It was only the eye of faith that revealed this “tender shoot” as God’s special Servant. There were some who accepted Christ during His time on earth, when He came in hypostatic union; however, He was rejected by the majority of those who heard and saw Him. The simple teaching of Scripture is that Jesus “was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isa. 53:3). For the most part, Jesus was met with unbelief and rejection throughout His life, and this is still true today.
The unbelief that Isaiah here depicts is the same unbelief found all about us today. Men say pleasant and complimentary things about the Lord of Glory. They will praise His ethics, His teaching, declare that He was a good man and a great prophet, the only one who has answers to the social problems that today confront the world. They will not, however, acknowledge that they are sinners, deserving everlasting punishment, and that the death of Christ was a vicarious sacrifice, designed to satisfy the justice of God and to reconcile an offended God to the sinner. Men will not receive what God says concerning His Son. Today also, the Servant is despised and rejected of men, and men do not esteem Him.
When Christ came into the world, He came into a place of darkness and hostility, and in this place “was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). Christ “came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). Jesus came as God’s perfect Light into the world, but “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19b). However, the rejection of God’s perfect Servant by evil men did not stop the Savior from dying for their sins, and this is the grace of God.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (Isa. 53:4-6)
Here, the prophet begins to reveal the idea of substitutionary atonement by stating, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried” (Isa. 53:4). On the cross, Jesus bore our sins, but here the prophet reveals He bore our griefs and our sorrows, which are the consequences of our sins. “The emphasis in verses 4–6 is on the plural pronouns: our griefs and sorrows, our iniquities, our transgressions…He did not die because of anything He had done but because of what we had done.”
It should be noted that the consequence of sin and not the sin itself is mentioned. Nevertheless, when it is said that he bore our sicknesses, what is meant is not that he became a fellow sufferer with us, but that he bore the sin that is the cause of the evil consequences, and thus became our substitute.
What is difficult for some to accept is the fact that Christ suffered by the hand of His Father to satisfy His righteous demands toward the guilt of our sin. Isaiah declares “yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4). God the Father struck Jesus Christ while He was on the cross with the blows of punishment that rightfully belonged to us.
When the Servant bore the guilt of our sins, we are saying that he bore the punishment that was due to us because of those sins, and that is to say that he was our substitute. His punishment was vicarious. Because we had transgressed, he was pierced to death; and being pierced and crushed was the punishment that he bore in our stead.
Isaiah then tells us that “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isa. 53:4b, 5). The healing here is primarily spiritual, restoring a broken relationship that has been fractured by sin. The suffering of Christ healed our relationship with the Father, as His death is the basis for the forgiveness of our sins (Eph. 1:7). The substitutionary death of Christ, that brings glory to God and saves sinners, is a revelation from heaven and not an invention of man. Paul tells his readers that “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).
Isaiah speaks of Israel and all humanity when he says, “all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6a). Each of us has failed God; but Christ, God’s sinless Servant, is the only One who has ever perfectly executed His will in everything. God could have easily judged and condemned us all and been absolutely justified in His actions. However, God loves us greatly, and so “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isa. 53:6b). Here is righteousness and love on display at the same time. In righteousness, God judged all our sin in Christ while He was on the cross. In love, God offers complete forgiveness and reconciliation to those who are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-9). God perfectly deals with sin and seeks to reconcile the sinner, and this is done through the substitutionary death of His Servant who died on the cross in our place. We deserve God’s wrath but have been shown great mercy through the vicarious and voluntary atoning work of His Son, in whom “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isa. 53:6b). While on the cross, Christ absorbed God’s wrath that belonged to us, so that “the iniquity of which we are guilty does not come back to us to meet and strike us as we might rightly expect, but rather strikes him in our stead.” This is great grace!
Sin is serious. The prophet calls it transgression, which means rebellion against God, daring to cross the line that God has drawn (Isa. 53:5, 8). He also calls it iniquity, which refers to the crookedness of our sinful nature (vv. 5–6). In other words, we are sinners by choice and by nature. Like sheep, we are born with a nature that prompts us to go astray; and, like sheep, we foolishly decide to go our own way. By nature, we are born children of wrath (Eph. 2:3); and by choice, we become children of disobedience (2:2). Under the Law of Moses, the sheep died for the shepherd; but under grace, the Good Shepherd died for the sheep (John 10:1–18).
God’s righteousness and love simultaneously intersect at the cross. In perfect righteousness God the Father judged our sins completely in His Servant who willingly died in our place. In love, God now offers perfect salvation to sinners who deserve only death, and this free gift of eternal life is based on the finished work of Christ who died in our place.
We were sick unto death because of our sins; but He, the sinless one, took upon Himself a suffering unto death, which was, as it were, the concentration and essence of the woes that we had deserved; and this voluntary endurance, this submission to the justice of the Holy One, in accordance with the counsels of divine love, became the source of our healing.
The matter of our sin is resolved by the suffering of Christ at the cross. Jesus paid the price for our sin, and now we can come to God and accept His free gift of eternal life by grace alone through faith alone. God, who is satisfied with Christ’s death regarding our sin, has opened the gates of heaven to accept sinners as His children. This is all made possible because of the work of Christ on the cross who suffered for our sin.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. (Isa. 53:7-9)
Jesus made no effort to rescue Himself from those who illegally tried Him, beat Him, and nailed Him to the cross. Jesus had already appealed to the supreme court of heaven, asking, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). There was nothing for Jesus to say to His judges and attackers, for He knew it was His Father’s will for Him to go to the cross and die. Jesus declared, “the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).
Jesus Christ was silent before those who accused Him as well as those who afflicted Him. He was silent before Caiaphas (Matt. 26:62–63), the chief priests and elders (27:12), Pilate (27:14; John 19:9) and Herod Antipas (Luke 23:9). He did not speak when the soldiers mocked Him and beat Him (1 Peter 2:21–23).
Faced with illegal trials and severe beatings, Isaiah reveals that it was by “oppression and judgment” that Jesus was “taken away” and put to death (Isa. 53:8a). And, after Jesus was put to death between two criminals, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (Isa. 53:9).
But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors. (Isa. 53:10-12)
The language is plain, “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10a). God must punish sin as His righteousness requires, before He can save the sinner as His love desires. It was the Father’s will for the Son to go to the cross to die for sinners, but we must also realize that Christ willingly went to His death and bore the Father’s wrath in our place. It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went. Christ was willing to be put to death in our place, for the Scripture declares “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2). Jesus said “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18). Several times the Scripture states that Christ offered Himself up to the Father as a willing sacrifice.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Eph. 5:25)
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Gal. 2:20)
For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. (Heb. 7:26-27)
For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:13-14)
Christ was not forced upon the cross, but willingly, through love, surrendered His life and died in our place. And, as a result of bearing the sin of many, “He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand” (Isa. 53:10b). When Isaiah says “He will see His offspring”, it means that Christ’s death will bear the fruit of spiritual offspring as people turn to Him as Savior and are born again (cf. John 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23). Christ was resurrected, never to die again, therefore, “He will prolong His days” (cf. Acts 2:30-32; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). The “good pleasure of the LORD” most likely speaks of heaven’s prosperity that will be known to those whom Christ will justify and who will share in His riches and heavenly estate (John 14:1-3; 1 Pet. 1:3-4).
“As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11a). Satisfaction through suffering is the message of Isaiah 53:11. Isaiah reveals that “by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:11b). Peter also reveals the doctrine of substitution when he states “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). It is always important to keep clear in our thinking that Christ bore our sin as well as the penalty for our sin, but this did not make Him a sinner. On the other hand, sinners are declared righteous in God’s eyes because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them at the moment of salvation. God gives us the gift of perfect righteousness at the moment we trust Christ as our Savior. This is what Paul meant when he stated, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Paul understood the doctrine of substitution, that Christ died in the place of sinners and that sinners are declared righteous because of the work of Christ credited to their account. This explains Paul’s words when he expressed his desire to “be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9).
When the servant bears the iniquities of the many and has been punished for the guilt of these iniquities, the act of bearing the iniquities in itself has not changed the character of those whose iniquities are borne. When the iniquities are borne, i.e. when the guilt those iniquities involved has been punished, the servant may declare that the many stand in right relationship with God. Their iniquities will no longer be able to rise up and accuse them, for the guilt of those iniquities has been punished. Thus, they are justified. They are declared to be righteous, for they have received the righteousness of the servant and they are received and accepted by God Himself. Of them God says that they no longer have iniquities, but they do have the righteousness of the servant. This can only be a forensic justification.
Justification by imputation is always a matter of grace. The sinner is declared righteous in the eyes of God, not because of any works which he has performed, but because of the work of Jesus Christ who has died in his place. God’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner at the moment of salvation, and Paul states this with absolute clarity when he says:
Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation [Grk. hilasterion – i.e. a sacrifice that brings satisfaction] in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:24-26)
Paul states at another point, “the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5). It is Christ’s death that secures our so great salvation.
Grace is love that has paid a price, and sinners are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8–10). Justice can only condemn the wicked and justify the righteous (1 Kings 8:32), but grace justifies the ungodly when they trust Jesus Christ! (Isa. 53:11; Rom. 4:5) To justify means “to declare righteous.” He took our sins that we might receive the gift of His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:17). Justification means that God declares believing sinners righteous in Christ and never again keeps a record of their sins. (See Ps. 32:1–2 and Rom. 4:1–8)
As a result of Christ’s victory at the cross, the Father speaks of reward, saying, “I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong” (Isa. 53:12a). Christ is the champion, and He will divide the spoils of war, in which He has overcome sin and death and become the Savior of many. His victory came “because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12b). Here is victory in death; victory at the cross.
If we had stood at the trials of Jesus, seen His beatings, seen His crucifixion and sat at the foot of the cross, surely we would weep at the injustice and inhumanity of it all. However, the Scripture reveals that it was the will of God that Christ go to the cross and die for sinners (Acts 2:23; 4:28), for His death is an atoning sacrifice that satisfied every righteous demand of the Father (Rom. 3:25; 1 Jo. 2:2). As stated previously, the Father sent, and Christ went. In the willing death of Christ, we have the Father’s righteous anger displayed toward our sin as well as His love toward us, the sinner, whom He seeks to save.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom. 5:6-10)
There is a purpose to the suffering of Christ. He suffered that we might have eternal life. His substitutionary death propitiated the Father’s righteous anger toward our sin and now we can come to God with the empty hands of faith and receive the free gift of eternal life and be clothed in perfect righteousness. This was accomplished while were helpless, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God (Rom. 5:6-10). God graciously acted toward us to reconcile us to Himself, and this was accomplished through the suffering of the cross.
The Raising of the Cross was painted by Rembrandt sometime around A.D. 1633. In the painting the artist portrayed himself as one among many who placed Christ on the cross to bear the sin of all mankind. You can see Rembrandt in the center of the painting wearing his painter’s hat. Rembrandt is telling everyone that it was his sin that sent Christ to the cross, and that it was his hands that lifted Him up to die. There is a richness of Christian theology in the painting.
I understand what Rembrandt is communicating in the picture. It speaks for itself. More so, I personally identify with the artist, because I see my hands raising the cross of Christ. I too am guilty of the sin that put Him there to die in my place. The cross of Christ is essential to the gospel message of Christianity (1 Cor. 1:17-18; 15:3-4), and every Christian who believes in Jesus as Savior—at some point in his learning—must see himself at the cross, for Scripture declares, “we died with Him” (2 Tim. 2:11; cf. Col. 2:20).
When we think about Jesus, we know from Scripture that He is simultaneously the eternal Son of God and true humanity. At a point in time, the eternal Son of God took upon Himself sinless humanity and walked among men (John 1:1, 14, 18). In theology, this is called the doctrine of the hypostatic union. Though He is fully God, we must always keep His perfect humanity in our thinking as well. While in the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before the crucifixion, it was the humanity of Christ that struggled to face the cross. In the Garden, Jesus “fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matt. 26:39). Jesus went to the cross as His Father willed. When we think about the cross, we realize that it was not Jesus’ deity that died for our sins, but His humanity, as Peter tells us, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24). Peter’s reference to “His body” speaks of the humanity of Jesus.
Concerning the death of Christ on the cross, The Bible reveals it was simultaneously an act of God as well as sinful men. When delivering his sermon about the crucifixion of Jesus in Acts chapter 2, Peter declared, “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23). In one verse, Peter captures the coalescence of divine and human wills that participated in putting Christ on the cross. On the divine side, Jesus was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God”, and on the human side, He was “nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men [who] put Him to death.” Jesus was not a helpless victim, torn between the will of God and sinful men, but a willing sacrifice who chose to lay down His life for the salvation of others. The prophet Isaiah declares:
But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. (Isa. 53:10-11)
The language is plain, “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10a). God punishes sin as His righteousness requires, and saves the sinner as His love desires. It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went. Christ was willing to be put to death in our place, for the Scripture declares “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2). Jesus said “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18). Other passages in Scripture clearly reveal that Christ went to the cross willingly and laid down His life for our benefit (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25; Heb. 7:27; 9:14). Jesus was punished in our place so that we might have forgiveness of sins and the gifts of eternal life and righteousness (John 3:16; 10:27-28; Eph. 1:7; 2:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21; Philip. 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:18).
We must not see Christ dying at a distant time or place. Like Rembrandt, we must see ourselves at the place where Christ died. We should see our hands driving the nails and lifting the cross. We must see Jesus bearing all our sin, and paying the penalty of the Father’s wrath that rightfully belongs to us. Afterward, we must see ourselves risen with Him into newness of life. In May, 2006, while taking a seminary class on the Atonement with Dr. Paige Patterson, I wrote a poem and tried to capture in words what Rembrandt captured in his painting.
I and the Father led Christ to the cross, Together we placed Him there; I pushed Him forward, no care for the cost, His Father’s wrath to bear. Christ in the middle not wanting to die, Knelt in the garden and prayed; Great tears of blood the Savior did cry, Yet His Father He humbly obeyed.
So He carried His cross down a dusty trail, No words on His lips were found; No cry was uttered as I drove the nails, His arms to the cross were bound. I lifted my Savior with arms spread wide, He hung between heaven and earth; I raised my spear and pierced His side, What flowed was of infinite worth.
Like a Lamb to the altar Christ did go, A sacrifice without blemish or spot; A knife was raised, and life did flow, In a basin the blood was caught. Past the incense table and the dark black veil, To that holy of holy places; The blood of Christ was made to avail, And all my sins it erases.
Now this Lamb on a cross was a demonstration Of the Father’s love for me; For the Savior’s death brought satisfaction, Redeemed, and set me free. Now I come to the Savior by faith alone, Not trusting in works at all; Jesus my substitute for sin did atone, Salvation in answer to His call.