“I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me and before all the people I will be glorified” Leviticus 10:3

It is a curious matter that in discussions on the atonement there is little said about how the Lord Jesus saw it. Comment from the law of Moses is often made and reference to the writings of the apostles, but what about the mind of Christ himself. How did he see it, as he stood in the very centre of God’s operations? There are a series of specific incidents in the life of the Lord that open this up to us in a very wonderful and helpful way.

Baptism by John—Matthew 3:13–15

There was nothing accidental about this incident. The Lord walked all the way from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised of John (Matt 3:13), and despite  John’s embarrassment, he insisted upon it. “Suffer  it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all  righteousness” (v15). How do we comprehend this insistence and what was his mind?

The baptism of John is repeatedly spoken of  as a statement of repentance (v2, 8, 11). Yet the  Lord had no sins of which to repent; this was John’s  predicament and the reason he felt it inappropriate  that he should preside at this baptism of “one  mightier than I… the latchet of whose shoes I am  not worthy to unloose” (Luke 3:16).

The principal text of John’s mission is from  Isaiah chapter 40 and may be summarised in the  prophet’s famous statement, “All flesh is grass and  all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field”  (v6–7). Everything in the life of John the Baptist was  in keeping with Isaiah’s pronouncement on the vanity of flesh, his message, his clothes, his diet, everything  in his life. John was struck with his inferiority to the Lord, but Jesus was asserting his commonality  with John and all mankind: “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (v15). On this matter  Jesus and John had common cause; they were both flesh and blood and it was only but proper for him  to renounce “the flesh” and make public statement of the righteousness of God. There is his mind in  all its wonder! To declare the righteousness of God,  his Father, was the dominant desire of his whole life.  It was the ever-present compulsion of his mind and  even here, when John would set him apart from all  other men who came to be baptised, Jesus insisted  on absolute obedience to the will of his Father. “No  flesh would glory in his presence” (1Cor 1:29).

Comprehending this, John yielded and baptised  Jesus: and the Father’s response was to anoint him  with the Spirit, seen as a dove lighting upon him.  He came up from the water praying to his Father  (Luke 3:21), honouring Him, respecting Him and  willing to do His every will. For this the heavens  were opened unto him! There was no barrier to  his Father because he was of human nature, rather  a profound statement of love for a Son who had  renounced the way of flesh, “This is my beloved  Son, in whom I am well pleased”.

Here in this incident is the balance of the subject  that we want.

This Shall Not Be Unto You—Matthew 16:21–23

Here Peter, together with the other eleven disciples, is told of Jesus’ coming death in Jerusalem and the terrible things that he would suffer there of the leaders of the nation (v 21). Peter, perhaps recently uplifted by the compliment of Christ in verse 17, has the effrontery to take Jesus aside and to rebuke him that he should even entertain such a future for himself: “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.” You will notice that the margin more accurately translates it, “Pity thyself, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.” So here we have the Lord Jesus treading with difficult step the road that would lead to Jerusalem where this tragic death awaited him according to the will of God, now being obstructed from this course by Peter. Peter virtually says, “you are too good for this”; “it is not right that you should entertain such a course for yourself.” This issue is therefore wide open—is there righteousness in the death of a sinless man?—is there something appropriate, something just in God asking His Son to accept this awful sacrifice? The mind of Jesus is abundantly clear on this question. To Peter he simply says, “Get thee behind me Satan [adversary]: thou art an offence [a stumbling block] unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Peter was guilty, said the Lord, of looking at the matter of his death from a human standpoint and not seeing in his offering, and death, the vastly more important principles that God desired to show. Again we see Jesus’ understanding of what God was asking him to do; it was right, there was an appropriateness, righteousness about this intention of God.

“None Good But One”—Matthew 19:16–17

A rich young lawyer impressed by Jesus’ teaching runs to him and says, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Flattery usually causes a man to be lost for words for a few seconds. However, Jesus here reveals a very wonderful depth of character. He rebuts the compliment of the young man with, “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.” It is at first hard to evaluate the thinking of Christ. Surely he was a good man. Surely it was right for the young man to address him in this respectful manner. But again the incident throws open the thinking of Christ in respect to his Father. Whilst he was but flesh and blood he would never consider himself to be good, as God was good. He says in Luke 13:32 that the third day he would be perfected. He sees himself as imperfect, as burdened with the weaknesses and inclinations of men and therefore inferior to the righteousness, the glory and the honour of his Father in heaven. He has a desire therefore to utterly conquer the flesh with its lusts and desires and to magnify his Father’s name. This immediate response to the young lawyer reveals where his mind was.

Gethsemane—Matthew 26:36–42

In this awe-inspiring occasion (which we considered in an earlier article) where his own will and the will of his Father are in mortal conflict, notice especially verse 39 and the phrase “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt”. It is the same conflict of God’s will with flesh of which Paul speaks so wonderfully in Romans 7:17–24. We see therefore the righteousness of this event, its correctness, the justice of God’s dealings. God in His son is showing the true place of the human will. Throughout the conflict God is elevated in the grandest and most complete way and man, “flesh”, is abased.

This all important principle receives continual prominence as the Lord moves from the Garden of Gethsemane to his crucifixion. This is what his crucifixion means. When all the barbs of the opposition were thrown at him there was no response according to the “flesh”. There was no struggle, no resistance, no angry words of bitterness, no retaliation, no reviling for reviling, no threatening for the threatening he received. There was a total capitulation; more than that, a crushing of his own will to the will of the Word of God; “all this was done that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matt 26:56); in this way God was greatly glorified in the sacrifice of His Son, and it is this that the crucifixion of Christ teaches us.

Summary Then of Jesus’ Life and Crucifixion

John 6:63: “It is the spirit that quickeneth [that makes alive]; the flesh profiteth nothing.” There is the mind of the Lord.

God was glorified, the flesh was given its rightful place. This was the ultimate teaching of the sacrifice of Christ and viewed from this way we can see the great meaning that God had in this offering. Far from being some quasi payment of a penalty, we see a wonderful principle behind the action. We can stand on God’s side and see the justice of this great incident in history. Rather than there being a fraudulent theory that Christ was paying the Devil for our sins, we are able to stand in awe of the wisdom of God as we see in Christ’s willing submission to his Father’s will, the ultimate declaration of the righteousness, the honour and the glory of God, and the true assessment of mankind’s will, the will of the flesh.

“To Declare His Righteousness”—Romans 3

In Romans chapters 1 to 8 the matters of the atonement are given their greatest apostolic elucidation, and in chapter 3 we have the heart of things. There up to verse 20 the apostle Paul repeats time and time again his teaching that all mankind, Jews as well as Gentiles, “are all under sin” (v9); that “all the world is guilty before God” (v19); and that “no flesh is justified in his sight” (v20). How then will man find righteousness before God, how will he “receive the atonement”, how will his sins be covered, how will he draw near to God and be reconciled to Him? Well, the apostle says that Jesus has been set forth (v25) as a mercy seat (propitiation) through faith in his blood (that is to say, in the sacrifice of Christ). Let us take that much so far: Christ is set forth by God as a place where mercy can be found if we have faith, in the principles of his sacrifice. If we will endorse the meaning of that sacrifice and accept it as the governing principle of our own lives, then we will be justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (v24).

What then are the principles that are being set forth in the sacrifice of Christ? The apostle explains,  “to declare his [God’s] righteousness for the  remission of sins that are past”. Here we have  the clear statement of what we have noticed in all that has gone before—a statement, a declaration of the righteousness of God as distinct from the waywardness of man. God therefore is upheld in the very action by which He brings men unto Him. He does not capitulate His sovereignty, He does not compromise His righteousness in giving righteousness (or justification, or covering) to mankind. Because we draw near to Him in one who has surrendered the rights of men, He will accept us and He, the Almighty, is honoured. This is of profound importance and it is this point which the apostle reiterates in the following verse: “to declare, I say, at this time his [God’s] righteousness: that he [God] might be just [or righteous], and the justifier [the one who makes righteous] of him who believeth in Jesus” (v26). So that when He justifies a man who looks to Him through the sacrifice or the blood of Christ, He justifies him on the basis of the principles of that sacrifice, namely, that God is upheld and man is abased.

The Principles of the Atonement Applied to Us in Baptism

The apostle Paul says, “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal 5:24). If they belong to Christ then they must be prepared to do what Christ has done, reasons the apostle. When, then, do they endorse these principles? The answer is—all their lives, but especially in the event in which they put on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, baptism.

So when the apostle in Romans 6 is speaking of baptism, he says that “so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death” (v3). This is an awe-inspiring fact when contemplated, and the full impact of it is so wonderfully expounded by the apostle in verse 6: “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” It requires our sober reflection before we accept this course to life; it will mean denial of ourselves. It will mean on the other hand, glory to God in heaven above. So we are back to the original principles with which we started and these are the fundamental principles of the atonement—the subjugation, the destruction of “the will of the flesh” and the exaltation of the glory and “righteousness of God”.

Thus we see the Atonement through the eyes of Christ!