“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” John 3:16

These eloquent words were spoken by the Lord to his evening visitor, Nicodemus. There is no doubt that this troubled member of the Sanhedrin had little or no concept of a Son of God being sent into the world for the salvation of man­kind. In every way Christ’s words were a shock to his picture of things, to his self-complacency. Messiah to be Son of God? Messiah coming for personal salvation? Messiah to save the Gentiles? All these concepts were far too large for the Jewish mind of the first century. Messiah was coming as David’s Son, to exalt the nation of Israel and lead them in a victorious ascendancy over the heathen Roman world! It is an amazing fact that almost no-one was prepared for a life-giving Saviour. The Jewish mentality was that, being Abraham’s children, they were quite sufficient (John 8:39; Matt.3:9; cp Luke 13:23), certainly not in need of being born again and certainly not in need of one coming to die for their sins. Yet nothing was so clear as the portrayal in the prophets of a man, a righteous man, giving his life that he might bear away the sins of his people (Isa 53:4–7). He would “pour out his soul unto death” and “by his knowledge” this righteous servant would “justify many”; for he would “bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:12,11). If the words are so clear then why was Jesus’ generation so totally ignorant of this fundamental work of Messiah? The answer is that God’s way was unpopular with man, not at all what Israel wanted to hear. Hence in the very place (Isaiah 53) that spoke so explicitly about the death of Messiah for our iniquities, there was the rhetorical question, “Who hath believed our report?” (v1). Though Yahweh had put him to grief (v10) it would be an unpopular message and few would believe. Why so Unpopular? Surely because “Christ crucified” strips man of his glory and states so emphatically that “the flesh profits nothing”; the “preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness” and to the Jews it was a “stumblingblock” (1 Cor 1:18,23; cp John 6:63). There is no natural appeal to anyone in the death of Jesus Christ. Why then did God Require it? Man was in a bind of sin. His will was inclined against the will of God. Though not originally so described, yet prophets and apostles wrote vivid descriptions about the wayward heart of man. “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21). “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). “I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa 51:5). “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child… ” (Prov 22:15). “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17:9). Even the apostle Paul, great disciple that he was, could lament, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom 7:18). How did the Lord Jesus see it? As we all know, being born of a woman brought Jesus into the arena of man and bondage to sin and thus to death, for “the wages of sin is death”, as God declared after the very first transgression (Gen 3:19; Rom 5:12; 6:23). There are a number of incidents in the life of the Master that throw particular light upon his mind as he faced the enormous challenges before him. At his baptism he said, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness(Matt 3:15). John’s message to the people was based upon Isaiah and stressed both “the glory of Yahweh” and the worthless vanity of flesh (Isa 40:5; 6–8). The baptism of the perfectly obedient Jesus gave honour to those twin principles of John’s ministry. Flesh was humbled and the Father was glorified. This had been the key message for the Day of Atonement. “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Lev 10:3; 16:1,2). This was always what Jesus saw as his role or maxim in life. Hear his stern words to Peter who thought that Christ was too good to suffer the death that lay ahead: Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men(Matt 16:23). If Isaiah had said, It pleased the Lord to bruise him”, then the Master would justify this course that God had laid upon him. He would never question his Father, never compete with Him, never challenge the will of his Father:I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which though gavest me to do”! (John 17:4). When the young ruler referred to Jesus as “Good Master” he was at pains to make distinction between himself and his Father. Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God”. Here was an instantaneous comment straight out of the mind of our Master. This opens to us the mind of the Lord. It is a special privilege that his thinking is so wondrously displayed. The glory of his Father was his dominant thought. He would be “perfected the third day” (Luke 13:32), but until then he was locked in bat­tle against the enemy sin. I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke12:50). Nowhere was that striving seen more passionately than in Gethse­mane, so succinctly summarised by his words not my will, but thine, be done(Luke 22:42). All these key incidents open to us the mind of the Lord. His words illustrate to us exactly how he thought about his sacrifice and its purpose. Father, glorify thy namesums it up perfectly, being stated a few days before Gethsemane and initiated by the thought of his impending death (John 12:27,28). One Consistent Teaching So we note that the principle of the Day of Atone­ment of the Law of Moses, as in Leviticus, is exactly the same as the teaching on the atonement by the Lord himself. How beautiful to follow through and find in the Apostle Paul’s exposition of the subject, exactly the same focus. The Apostle writes in Ro­mans the masterly exposition of the subject of the Atonement. All commentators recognise that the crucial focus of the Spirit’s teaching is in chapter 3. Here is the essence of the meaning of the Lord’s sacrifice. What does the Apostle say? He says that faith in his blood declares the righteousness of God for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God (Rom 3:25). It is our sins that are forgiven, for there is nothing else to be forgiven! It is God’s mercy, His grace, His forbearance that makes it work. On what basis is it given? That we have faith in the blood of Jesus Christ; not, of course, in the literal fluid of his blood but in the principles of his death that are symbolised in the sprinkling of his blood. What principles are these? The declaring of the righteousness of God, the glorifying of his Father’s will, the honouring of the Father’s name. So the Apostle repeats the matter to underline its importance (v26). Note again that this is identical teaching to what we found from Moses. When we ruminate upon the meaning of the sacrifice of Christ we shall always find that we come back to this fundamental concept. God was sanctified in His Son and those that find life will find it upon the same path of thought. Negatively expressed, Jesus crucified the flesh with the affec­tions and lusts(Gal 5:24). Positively expressed, the Father’s name, His Will and His glory were hallowed in this supreme act of obedience. God Commendeth His Love What human father would conceive such a pro­gramme for one of his children. It is unthinkable! Yet it was all there with many graphic details in the shadows of the Law, the inferences of ceremony and the clear statements of psalmists and prophets. And the Son of His love read it all and increasingly comprehended the amazing road that lay ahead, the awesome sacrifice that awaited him, despised, rejected, alone, wracked with shame and pain. Who can measure what our God has done for us? So He commends His love toward us! Selah. This being so it is unseemly that we should speak and act heatedly about a subject that is so vastly above us all. Paul described the love of Christ as four dimensional, with breadth, and length, and depth and height; that is, it surpassed human knowledge (Eph 3:19). So we are wise to treat this exalted subject reverently and humbly, perceiving the great principles of the Atonement, yet with a kindly generosity of spirit that ensures that more