The Atoning Death

The Atoning Death

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” —John 3:16, ESV

Our generation is often referred to as the “me generation.” A question many people ask is, “What’s in it for me?” This kind of thinking is one of the end results of existential philosophy that offers no hope but only despair. This line has crept into many universities, theological seminaries and churches all over the world. Much of theology today is anthropology—meaning it is mostly man-centered. The question, “What’s in it for God?” does not seem to cross people’s minds.

But that is the question I would put to you as we enter the Christmas season. So, what’s in it for God? The answer is, what’s in it for Him is what’s in it for you. The reason for Christmas is about God: His Son, His love, His plan and His purpose, and ultimately His glory.

Jesus was sent

A key word that makes this clear is sent. It comes largely from the Gospel of John. God sent Jesus from Heaven to earth. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … the Word became flesh” (John 1:1, 14). The Word became flesh because Jesus was sent by the Father. The term sent and its derivatives are found almost 60 times in the Gospel of John. Jesus came to earth because of the Father’s purpose. Jesus did not come to do His own will but the will of Him who “sent” Him (John 6:38). The Son can do “nothing of Himself” but only what He sees the Father doing (John 5:19). He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). In other words, it was a God-centered mission.

When on the cross Jesus uttered the words “It is finished” just before He died (John 19:30). It meant “Mission Accomplished.” He “finished” the work God sent Him to do. Jesus came to the earth with the express purpose to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The term save is at the heart of Jesus’ being sent. It is why the angels said to the shepherds, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

The word savior by itself is an ambiguous term. Therefore the notion of Jesus being a savior could mean that the promised Messiah would overthrow Rome. That, they thought, was what was in it for them. The idea that there was something in it for God was not on their radar screen. It had not crossed their minds that Jesus needed to fulfill the Law because of God’s plan (Matthew 5:17). It would take the Holy Spirit to make clear that Jesus’ death turned God’s wrath away. It is called propitiation (Romans 3:25); it is what the atoning death of Jesus did for God.

This, then, is why Jesus came. But not only for God. Here is the wonderful thing. When we discover what’s in it for God, we are given a pleasant surprise: what Jesus did is really for us after all! That is the amazing discovery. It comes to those who want to be God-centered in their thinking.

The Right Question

Don’t ask: What’s in it for me? The answer will give you an incomplete picture of the Atonement. Ask: What’s in it for God? The answer will set you free. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish—such perishing being the destiny of those remaining under the wrath of God—but have eternal life (John 3:16).

So in sum, it was God’s good pleasure from eternity past to send His Son to atone for our sin, thus assuring the place of repentant sinners in God’s eternal Kingdom. His pleasure is our pleasure.

But the question follows: How do we know all this is true? The answer is, because Jesus was raised from the dead! The Christmas story did not end on Good Friday; it was completed on Easter morning. The resurrection of Jesus vindicated all that Jesus said about Himself—who He said He was, all He said and did. Jesus fulfilled the Law as He had promised to do. God’s wrath was satisfied—propitiated. The blood of Jesus not only turned God’s wrath away but washes away all our sins if we believe in Him as Savior, repent of our sins and receive His forgiveness. That’s what is in it for us. But it begins with what was in it for God. We exist for His glory, and we are saved as part of His glorious plan.

And, yet, this too was not really made clear to the disciples of Jesus until the Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost. Joseph was one of the first to be given light on the meaning of savior when he was told that Mary’s child would save His people from their sins. But Jesus’ followers did not have a clue at first that Jesus being “sent” was for our sins. To them it was about national pride—Israel being put on the map again. Even on Easter Sunday they did not know why He died. Forty days later, just before He ascended to the right hand of God, the disciples were still anticipating the overthrow of Rome (Acts 1:6).

It took the coming of the Holy Spirit to make these things clear (Acts 2:17-36).

The Holy Spirit makes clear the reason for Christmas. Jesus was sent by the Father to fulfill the Law, to die on a cross and to be raised from the dead.

And yet the Christmas story is not truly complete until you see these things for yourself. Ask: What’s in it for God? The answer will show what’s in it for you.  ©2017 R.T. Kendall

R.T. Kendall is an author, speaker and theologian. He served as pastor at Westminster Chapel in London from 1977 to 2002.

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version.

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