Transcript of a sermon about atonement preached by Dr. Martin Holdt
Based on: Isaiah 53; and 1 Peter chapter 3, verse 8 – 22.
Well beloved, on this glorious theme of the cross of Christ, may God give me the grace to share with you something that will elevate your soul and move you to worship Him who died for our sins.
You all know what Paul said in that crisp, wonderful, glorious statement in
1 Corinthians 15 verse 3. ‘I delivered to you as the first importance what I also received (now notice, of first importance, it is paramount, it is crucial, its vital He says) that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures. And that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures.’
This morning we are going to pause and think about this statement, that Christ died for our sins. I think you know this doctrine of substitutionary penal atonement is under attack today, but it has been under attack before. We have, amongst others, professors in the theological faculty of the University of Pretoria, who say that to teach that or to preach that is to suggest and imply that God is guilty of child abuse. For a mother wouldn’t do that to her child. Why should God do that to His beloved Son? For of course it is things we know, we don’t expect better from that faculty.
It is suggested that He can forgive sin without that, for, after all, He is a forgiving God. As we are told by the prophet Micah, ‘who is a God-like You pardoning iniquity and passing over transgressions for the remnant of his inheritance. He does not contain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us. He will tread our iniquities under foot. He will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. He will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as You have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.’
So, it is suggested that doesn’t require a substitutionary atonement. For those for who that word is a bit of a jawbreaker and are simple, like I am. It simply means Christ dying in the place, in the stead of, those He came to redeem.
Next time I will talk to you about death and atonement, particularly redemption, but for now this. The death of Christ to these men, some women with them too, to these who object to the biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement, to them the death of Christ was, amongst other things, simply a moral influence. For example, when you see how Jesus endured pain and forgave his murderers. It surely inspires you to do more or less the same. Well, when people say that, when people teach that, when people preach that, they are guilty of heresy.
What is the truth? That’s all I want to do today, it is simply to tell you what is the truth. The truth by which we are saved, the truth by which we are delivered from the awful prospect of an eternal separation from God. What is the truth? Thank God for the Bible. I love the way the Puritans said, the Bible was written so that it could be understood. Yes, there are vast depths of God’s wisdom. We are is still at work in the Bible and sometimes the only reason why I wish I could live as long as Methuselah, which will never happen, is so that I can spend all those years studying the Bible, this side of the grave. But thankfully I won’t live as long as that, nor will you. But we can revel in the delight of God’s truth, God’s gospel, which proclaims there was Somebody who took up our case and He died in our place. Let’s think about that today and when we’ve done it, let’s worship Him, more than ever before, for the glory of His name.
In the Old Testament
I’m just going to begin with a simple statement that the whole Bible, from beginning to end, teaches the necessity of a substitutionary atonement. The fall had scarcely happened when this marvellous God, this glorious God, having rejected the feeble attempt of Adam and Eve to clothe themselves, because of the shame of their nakedness, rejected that and did this: Lord God made for Adam and his wife, garments of skins and clothed them. Already there is a sacrifice and it’s for them, and it is to cover them. It’s of course not the real thing. The real One was yet to come, but it’s a type of the great anti-type. For us, He has come. We can still read Genesis, 3 verse 21. Like Henry Law, in his slender volume on these things, stresses the fact that even here the gospel is in Genesis.
Then what about Cain and Abel? Again, is not God teaching us something about the necessity of a bloody substitute? One of the two brothers got it right. The other one got it all wrong. So, in Genesis chapter 4, in verse 3 and 4: “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground and Abel also brought of the first-born of his flock and of their fat portions and the Lord had regard for Abel.” Why did He have regard for Abel? Because there was the shedding of blood, without which there is no remission of sins. But for Cain and his offerings He had no regard, because there was no shedding of blood.
The sacrifices in Leviticus, chapter 1, verse 3 and 4: ‘If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd he shall offer a male without blemish. Jesus was a male without blemish. And he shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord and he shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.’ The pious Israelite put his hand on an animal that was to be sacrificed, blood to be shed and God in heaven above would see, and in the prospect of the coming Lamb of God, he would be forgiven.
Again, without the shedding of blood, no forgiveness at all.
Then of course, what about Isaiah chapter 53? Here we stand on holy ground and because of all the things that are said in some quarters in South Africa, this poor, benighted country by so-called theological professors, who are misguided, in mental darkness, who will tell you and pass it on to their students, who will then become ministers and they will announce from the pulpit that this has got nothing to do with Jesus Christ. It is suffering Israel of course. What utter nonsense.
Then Philip was wrong, when he interpreted parts of Isaiah 53 to the Ethiopian eunuch and spoke to him about Jesus. Then Jesus was wrong when in Luke chapter 24 He said to his disciples: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, referring to the continued ministry He had engaged with them, that everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the Prophets, including Isaiah, by the way, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Just take a look at Isaiah 53. Do you know that seven times the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is stressed in Isaiah 53 verses 5 – 6: “That He was wounded for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
Verse 10: “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him. He put him to grief when His soul makes an offering for sin. He shall see His offspring, He shall prolong his days.” But note: “When His soul makes an offering for sin.”
Verse 11: Out of the anguish of his soul He shall see and be satisfied. By His knowledge shall the righteous, My Servant make many to be accounted righteous and He shall bear their iniquities.
Verse 12: Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the many and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors, yet He bore the sin of many and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
In the New Testament
No wonder when the New Testament writers took up the theme of the atonement, time and again there was this stress. When Mark writes about the institution of the Lord’s Supper, he records Jesus as saying: “This is the blood of my covenant which is poured out for many.”
Luke does exactly the same when he records the institution of the Lord’s Supper, in Luke chapter 22, verse 19 and 20. “And He took the bread and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to them, saying, this is My body, which is given for you. And likewise the cup, after they had eaten, saying, this cup is poured out for you. It is the new covenant in My blood.
Then from our second Scripture reading today, 1 Peter chapter 3 and verse 18: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit.
Could it be clearer than that? Well fine, so our objector to our belief in the doctrine of substitution. He or she will ask why in the world do you do that? Why do you say that, why do you teach that? Surely God is in the capacity just to forgive sins. Surely it can be without the shedding of blood and the awful pain and suffering of Jesus Christ. They would be satisfied with Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion.’ We cannot be. What is it all about when you look and think and read about the passion of Christ?
Let me attempt to tell you. First of all its propitiation. What’s that all about? Well it’s about our Lord Jesus becoming a sacrifice for sins, due to the righteous anger of a sin avenging God. Let me clarify this. God does not lose his temper. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil. His wrath because of the sins of people, including His own people. It is a righteous and a just wrath and should there be any who object to the fact of God’s anger, if it is possible, as the apostle Paul suggests in his letter to the Ephesians, to be angry and not to sin. Which, I am afraid, many of us, including me, does not get it right at the best of times, especially when some vehicles drive past you on the wrong side of the road, or in the emergency lane, or some such things. But if it is possible, as it must be, otherwise Paul would never have said it, to be angry and not to sin, over and above and beyond that, God is love. God who is great and just and merciful. Because, in His being, He is what He is, He is a God who is angry at evil and sin.
So the apostle Paul, before he begins with his brilliant setting out of what God did in the atonement, has to write to the Christians in Rome to tell them about the anger of God being revealed against all ungodliness. Therefore He must do one of two things, either He must consume the sinner in His righteous indignation or He must propitiate his anger.
Thank God for Bible translations that have not expunged the wonderful English word ‘propitiation’. It is a word that is used with reference to the anger of God. And the anger of God being taken out when His beloved Son, so that it might not befall His elect, because He loves them as He loves His Son. Fact is that God being God cannot ignore sin. And while animal sacrifices did not propitiate his anger, except in so far as they were types of the great anti-type Jesus Christ, we at our vantage point look back at the cross and are relieved. And brother, we ought to be relieved. And more than that, at this magnificent wisdom of God.
That’s why the letter to the Hebrews is so powerful and glorious. Hebrews chapter 10 verse 3, 4 and 5. In these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin, every year, and surely one of the things the pious Israelite was meant to see when he saw the shedding of blood was not to take pity on the poor animal, but to look at blood and to say to himself: Are my sins that bad? That it requires this, to atone for my sins?