Foreword to “Pierced for Our Transgressions”
(From: Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution)
Out of the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day had risen teachers of the law who did not know what the law meant. Jesus found himself saying things like ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?’ ( John 3:10 ESV). Some of the teachers had lost all sense of biblical proportion, ‘straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!’ (Matt 23:24 ESV). And as they lost their bearings, they came under Jesus’ most serious charge: ‘You have made void the word of God’ (Matt 15:6 ESV).
Emotionally, Jesus’ response was a sinless combination of grief and anger. ‘He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart’ (Mark 3:5 ESV). Why both anger and grief?
The anger was because people were being hurt – eternally. These teachers were supposed to know what the word of God meant, but instead Jesus said they were ‘like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing’ it (Luke 11:44 ESV). This made Jesus angry. Their job was to teach what God had said. Instead, they were blind guides and were leading others with them into the ditch. Jesus loved people. Therefore, he was angry with professional teachers who imperilled people with biblical blunders.
But Jesus was not only angry; he was ‘grieved at their hardness of heart’. These were his kinsmen. These were the leaders of his people. These were the representatives of the Jerusalem he loved and wept over. ‘Would that you . . . had known . . . the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes’ (Luke 19:42). The condition of their heart and the blindness of their eyes were a grief to Jesus.
This is how I feel today about teachers of Christ’s people who deny and even belittle precious, life-saving, biblical truth.When a person says that God’s ‘punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed’ would be as evil as child abuse, I am angered and grieved. For if God did not punish his Son in my place, I am not saved from my greatest peril, the wrath of God.
In part, I write this foreword to defend my Father’s wrath against me before I was adopted. He does not need my defence. But I believe he would be honoured by it. On behalf of my Father, then, I would like to bear witness to the truth that, before he adopted me, his terrible wrath rested upon me. Jesus said, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey . . . the wrath of God remains on him’ (John 3:36; italics added). Wrath remains on us as long as there is no faith in Jesus.
Paul puts it like this: We ‘were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind’ (Eph. 2:3). My very nature made me worthy of wrath. My destiny was to endure ‘flaming fire’ and ‘vengeance on those . . . who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus . . . [and who] suffer the punishment of eternal destruction’ (2 Thess. 1:8-9 ESV). I was not a son of God. God was not my Father. He was my judge and executioner. I was ‘dead in . . . trespasses and sins’, one of the ‘sons of disobedience’ (Eph. 2:1-2 ESV). And the sentence of my Judge was clear and terrifying: ‘because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience’ (Eph. 5:5 ESV; italics added).
There was only one hope for me – that the infinite wisdom of God might make a way for the love of God to satisfy the wrath of God so that I might become a son of God.
This is exactly what happened, and I will sing of it forever. After saying that I was by nature a child of wrath, Paul says, ‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ’ (Eph. 2:4-5 ESV). What a grievous blindness when a teacher in the church writes that the term ‘children of wrath’ cannot mean ‘actual objects of God’s wrath . . . [because] in the same breath they are described as at the same time objects of God’s love’. On the contrary. This is the very triumph of the love of God. This is the love of God – the ‘great love with which he loved us’. It rescued me from his wrath and adopted me into sonship.
‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son . . . to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons’ (Gal. 4:4 ESV). God sent his Son to rescue me from his wrath and make me his child.
How did he do it? He did it in the way one writer slanderously calls ‘cosmic child abuse’. God’s Son bore God’s curse in my place. ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”’ (Gal. 3:13 ESV; italics added). If people in the twenty-first century find this greatest act of love ‘morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith’, it was not different in Paul’s day. ‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (I Cor. 1:23 ESV; italics added).
But for those who are called by God and believe in Jesus, this is ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (I Cor. 1:24 ESV). This is my life. This is the only way God could become my Father.Now that his wrath no longer rests on me (John 3:36), he has sent the Spirit of sonship flooding into my heart crying Abba, Father (Rom. 8:15). I thank you, heavenly Father, with all my heart, that you saved me from your wrath. I rejoice to measure your love for me by the magnitude of the wrath I deserved and the wonder of your mercy by putting Christ in my place.
Those who try to rescue the love of God by minimizing the wrath of God, undermine not only the love of God, but also his demand that we love our enemies. It is breathtaking to hear one of them say, ‘If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies, and to refuse to repay evil with evil.’ Those are deadly words, which, if they held sway, would take enemy love out of the world.
Why? Because Paul said that counting on the final wrath of God against his enemies is one of the crucial warrants for why we may not return evil for evil. It is precisely because we may trust the wisdom of God to apply his wrath justly that we must leave all vengeance to him and return good for evil. ‘Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him”’ (Rom. 12:19-20 ESV). If God does not show wrath, sooner or later we shall take justice into our own hands. But God says, ‘Don’t. I will see to it.’
Every section of this book yields another reason to thank God for the labours of the authors and for IVP in Britain. I pray that the Lord will give the book success in the defence and honour of God, and that Jesus Christ will be treasured all the more fully when he is seen more clearly to be Pierced for our Transgressions.