Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Together For The Gospel 2008: Session #5

R.C. Sproul

The Curse Motif of the Atonement

For all who rely on works of he law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." 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" -- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Galatians 3:10-14

It has been over 50 years that Sproul has meditated on and studied the cross of Christ. And yet he still believes that he hasn’t been able to more than touch the surface of the depth and riches contained in that one moment of redemptive history.

When we read about the cross in the NT, there is no one image that can comprehensively convey the fullness of its significance. It is like a garment woven together by many finely woven threads to compose a prolific, indescribably beautiful work of art.

Some of these aspects are those of Christ as ransom, vicar standing in our place, victor over Satan, kinsman redeemer of the bride…

But one aspect has receded in our day into almost total obscurity. We flee from any mention of a curse inflicted by God upon His own Son. We skip over the fact that in Isaiah 53 it pleased the Father to bruise His own Son.

When we think of a curse today, we think of the occult. We think of voodoo. We think of those putting spells on people, superstition, and such. But biblically speaking, there is nothing superstitious about a curse. The idea of it is biblically rooted. In Genesis 3, God curses the serpent and God curses the earth.

We also find a curse in the giving of the law by Moses to the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 28). If the people obey, they will be blessed. If they don’t, they will be cursed.

One of our favorite carols we love to sing at Christmas speaks to the fact that Jesus comes into a world that is under the curse of God:

He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found. (Joy to the World)

We see throughout the Scriptures the interweaving of blessing and curse. The prophets spoke both. In America, we have come to be very comfortable with hearing about blessings, but we have conveniently pushed curses aside. We have come to think that God blesses only and doesn’t curse.

The famous blessing given for Aaron to give to Israel (Numbers 6:24-26) uses a Hebrew structure called synonymous parallelism. Essentially, this means that the same thing is said in three different ways.

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26

In order to know how the Jew understood a curse, we must know how he understands blessing. The Jew believed that to be blessed by God is to be bathed in the resplendent glory that emanates from His face. This is what Moses begged for, but was refused. Moses could only see the backside of God and yet his face still shone.

So here is Sproul’s antithesis to the blessing of Aaron:

May the LORD curse you and abandon you.
May the LORD leave you in darkness and give you only judgment with no grace.
May the LORD turn his back on you and give you no peace.

In the concept of the atonement, the sacrifice consisted of propitiation and expiation.

What’s the difference between propitiation and expiation?

Propitiation: the Son does something to satisfy the justice and wrath of the Father (vertical transaction)

Expiation: the Son removes our sins from us and takes away the guilt and shame that come to us with them (horizontal transaction)

The scapegoat carrying the sins of the people was driven outside of the camp to the place where the blessing of God is not present while the people are allowed to remain in the camp where the blessing of God dwells as He tabernacles in their presence. Christ doesn’t just redeem us from the curse, He becomes the curse for us. Christ became the ultimate obscenity and carries not only satisfies God’s wrath but carries away from us, allowing us to remain in God’s presence where there can be no sin.

God cannot look upon sin. So when Christ bears our sin, God removes the light of His countenance from His Son. He ceases to make His face shine upon the Son. He removes His blessing from His Son. He curses His Son.

When the light of God’s countenance is removed from His Son, even the sun is shut down on Calvary. For Jesus to become the curse, He has to be utterly forsaken by the Father.

In a room this big, it is undeniable that there are people here who are still under the curse. You are trying to justify yourself by works of the law and you are cursed because there is none of us who has been able to keep the entire law for even five minutes since we were born.

You will either bear the curse fully yourself or you will flee to the One who takes it from you and bears it for you.

The reason we cannot see the face of God isn’t because our eyes are insufficient. The reason we cannot see the face of God is because our hearts are insufficient. Who shall see God? The pure in heart (Matthew 5:8). This was only true of Jesus.

If we believe this, and the reality of the curse, we will stop adding to the gospel because it is the only hope we have. And it is hope enough.

Download the audio here.

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