by Lois Poppema
“And can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” (C. Wesley c1739)
“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God” (Isaac Watts c1720)
Did Wesley and Watts get it right? I think so. A brother once asked me how God could sacrifice His own Son; he couldn’t hurt his son – he loved him. Another brother, a Jehovah’s Witness, had insisted I read any Bible; when I did, I found lots of evidence for the Trinity, so I answered that since Jesus is God in the flesh, God was sacrificing Himself for us. He became the Lamb of God whose blood was required to make atonement for His sheep and He became The Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. Is anything too hard for God? No! When He was crucified, the curtain in front of the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom – opening the way for everyone to come directly to God (Mark 15:38) – to “Our Father.”
But what do I know? I needed to offer my brother more than nine pages of verses that had persuaded me. A friend recommended John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. My heart sank when The Essential J.S. arrived: it’s 2 inches thick! But I opened – amazingly – to “the conclusion toward which this [6th] chapter will argue” (as summarized by Dr. Charles E.B. Cranfield):
“God, because in His mercy He willed to forgive sinful men, and, being truly merciful, willed to forgive them righteously, that is, without in any way condoning their sin, purposed to direct against His own very self in the person of His Son the full weight of that righteous wrath which they deserved.”
Does the refrain “God in three Persons” contribute to understanding God (Spirit) as Subject and Jesus (Flesh and Spirit) as Object? Do Abraham and Isaac give us our picture? How about three manifestations? Otherwise, we’re regarded as polytheists who must be opposed – or worse.
In going to the Messiah for many years, we heard a lot of Isaiah, so when I discovered that a complete manuscript of Isaiah (written in c700 BC) had been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls when Israel was made a sovereign nation in 1948 – and that it is unrolled in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem – it seemed to me God was telling Israel: “Happy Birthday, now read this Book.” What/Who would they discover if they did? It’s not seeker-friendly, but after the opening rehearsal of their rebellion, they would read:
“Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah” (1:9)
– how relevant in 1948! Then, they’d hear God’s invitation:
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow” (1:18).
How? They, better than we Gentiles, would know that a lamb had to be sacrificed at Passover, but the temple had been destroyed in 70AD. How could God accomplish this?
Isaiah 59 was the key for me:
“Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save… But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear…. 4 No one calls for justice, nor does any plead for truth. They trust in empty words and speak lies….7 Their feet rush into sin; and they are swift to shed innocent blood…. 8 The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths…. 9b We look for light, but there is darkness…. 11b We look for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us….our sins testify against us. 14b Truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. [Sounds like today!] The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one. He was appalled that there was no one to intervene, so His own arm worked salvation for Him.… (Past tense.) 17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; [and] garments of vengeance….19 So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun…. The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob…. “ (NIV & NKJV blend; I cap NIV pronouns)
I had forgotten that John quoted Isaiah 53:1: “Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (12:38) as Jesus was about to go to the cross. Of course! The crucifixion is clearly described in Isaiah 53 – as in Psalm 22 (c1000 years BC).
Isn’t Jesus the Arm of the LORD – the means of His accomplishing His will in our material dimension? Yahweh is Spirit, but when He came down as a baby, His name was to be “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). In Matthew we learn that His name is to be Jesus – “Yahweh saves” – because He will save His people from their sins (1:21); and, as Isaiah also foretold, they will call Him “Immanuel, which means God with us” (v 23 quoting Isaiah 7:14 and 8:8&10). Jesus called Himself “Son of Man” – did the Pharisees remember Daniel 7:13 and realize what He was saying? When “God with us” accomplished His purpose, He returned to the side of His Father, and God sent us His Holy Spirit. God reached down again in giving us His Spirit so that we could also become children of God (Spirit and flesh, like Jesus). His Arm is the only Way to Him.
Now I see confirmation everywhere:
Paul tells the elders, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).
Timothy says “God our Savior…wants all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (I Tim 2:3).
Peter boldly confronts his own “brothers” in Acts 2:22-25: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.” Then, “…let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (v36). Peter’s “brothers” are cut to the heart, ask what they can do, and he says to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call“ (Acts 2:37-39).
*“ …all mankind will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer….” (Is.49:26b)*
***Isaiah cried, “O, that you would rend the Heavens and come down (64:1)” –
and He did!***
*****(Read David Lambourn’s But is He God? for an extra-special Christmas.)*****
For Advent devotions this year, we are using Pastor Tim Keller’s themes in his new book Hidden Christmas