Substitutionary Atonement. The penalty or the crime?

substitutionary atonement

2 Samuel 7:14  I will be a father to him, and he will be a son to Me. When he does wrong, I will discipline him with a human rod and with blows from others.

The first part of this illustration, you’ve probably heard before. Too many times.

You’re led into a court room handcuffed and trembling on the inside. Today is the day. The judge sits high, donned in his black gown with gavel at hand and stares right through your façade of innocence to your guilty soul. And even though you had come close to believing the lies, you now look in the judge’s eyes and know that it’s all about to be exposed.
The list of offenses is long. He reads them as if numbered on a scroll, but never looks down, never unlocks his gaze that’s been set on you from the moment you entered his court. Each accusation resurrects vivid memories you had once filed into the forgotten. With each reading, the specific event and its circumstances rush to the forefront of your mind, every one catalyzing accusation to guilt and then certainly to conviction.
Lust, theft, lust, theft, selfishness, greed, lust, theft, hate, cheating, theft and lust. They begin to run together forming the picture of a dirty and shattered life.
Then he finishes. Your legs are weak now and you need to sit, but the sentence is coming. The crowd in the courtroom who was, at the beginning of all this, chattering in whisper about your orange jumpsuit, shackles and shame is now silent and slumped, their heads bowed by an odd combination of pity and disgust. The long list and nature of your crimes had crested their threshold of entertainment into sickness and evil. They can no longer look at you.  But the judge can. Justice is about to be handed to you and the fact that nausea fills your gut and throat doesn’t seem to affect him at all. “This court finds you guilty. You are hereby sentenced to…”
“Wait!” From the back of the courtroom, a man steps to the front and does the unimaginable. “I will take this man’s penalty.” The courtroom chatter is revived. The judge thumps his gavel. “Order! Order!” He directs his attention to the stranger. “Why would you do this for this man who is guilty of every thing I’ve recounted?”
“Because I want to see him free.”
“Then step forward. Though you have done no wrong, I transfer the sentence of this guilty man to you. The sentence is death.” Even though the crowd knew the severity of the sentence long before the reading of trespasses had been completed, there’s still a gasp of surprise at the astounding turn of events. The guards unlock your shackles and cuffs and turn you toward the door. Your slow steps turn into a sprint as you struggle to discern this reality from a dream and only as you burst through the exit, do you turn briefly to shout, “Thank you!” to the man now being shackled with the same restraints that had bound you only moments ago.  The man is smiling. The courtroom is in shock. And you are free.
But here’s the reality. You’re still guilty. Yes, you’re free from the penalty, but not the shame. Initially, there’s a lot of celebration and hooplah. After all, you have what many call “a new lease on life.”  But in the midst of all the excitement and your new plans, a nagging truth gnaws at you with a voice that’s you’re own. “I’m the one who did it. I’m the one whose guilty.” Eventually, this truth of your conscience grows weighty and begins to manifest in depression and lack of confidence. That feeling when you were first set free has evacuated and is replaced with a bitterness of soul. Pure logic begins to argue for a position of comfort, ease and euphoria over the relentless guilt and shame. In the end, your return to the old way of life is less that you succumbed to it and more that you simply decided on it. For the deductive conclusion at which you arrive sounds strange but is right none the less: “It was nice to be set free, but I’d rather be dead.”
Had you known the agony of living free from penalty but slave to shame, you would have stood your ground in that courtroom that day boldly addressing your judge and that strange savior at your side, “If only from the penalty you set me free, then to the gallows I go gladly for I would rather die in chains in the grip of justice than live with none in the grip of guilt.”
Your soul and body are now trashed again. All seems lost. Nearing insanity, you begin running toward that courthouse in the town square. Security at the entry point is caught off guard by your desperate rush and look of a man wildly possessed. You escape their restraint, clambering up the stairs to the courtroom doors, bursting back in with no less vigor than you had once burst out.  Court is in session for some other poor soul and you can’t help but feel sorry for him and somewhere in all your jumbled and confused mental state, you think, “I’m going to warn that guy.  Freedom isn’t what it seems.”  The judge is not startled by your bold interruption, but he certainly is angry. Two bailiffs quickly grab you by the arms as you blurt out the circumstances of your trial once held in this very room. You recite many of the crimes of which you were accused, the man who stepped forward, the sentence that was transferred to him.
“Your honor! I know you must remember me! I can no longer live with myself. I am guilty! The man who took my sentence was innocent. I am guilty and I want to join him in death. I no longer want to live.”
In contrast to your frantic plea, the judge calmly asks, “What was your name again?” You feel exasperated by his failure to remember you, but you gather yourself to clearly state your full name. He pulls out a heavy black leather bound book, large enough that it requires two hands to open it to the letter of your last name.  He licks his index finger and peers through the bottom of his bifocals as he flips a couple of pages forward and then runs his finger up and down the columns on that page.
“No.  I don’t see your name here. And I don’t remember these crimes you’ve recalled.”
“What!? But I stood right here and you were about to impose a sentence of death when a man from the back came forward and said he would stand in my place and…and you transferred the sentence to him! You don’t remember that?”
“Young man. Settle yourself and listen carefully. I am a just and fair and perfect judge. And perfect justice can only penalize the guilty. The only way any person could ever take another’s penalty is if he himself somehow also became guilty. Transfer of sin would be required for the transfer of penalty.” He picked up the black book. “Do you see this? It is the book of death sentences. Those who are in it are guilty. Those who are not are innocent. Your name is not in this book. You are innocent of any wrongdoing. Do you understand me?”
The room is silent. It seems as if all the world and heaven is watching you and thinking the same thing you are; “I shouldn’t even be here right now.” The revelation of what that stranger did for you dawns on you like a new day that will never end and as you prepare to back your way to the doors, you humbly ask, “Your honor. I understand now that I have no record. If you would allow me, I would like to go and sin no more.” The bailiffs slowly release their grip as he responds with five words that you never, until now, understood correctly.
“You are free to go.”

The Backup Plan?

oil and water

2 Samuel 6:6 When they came to Nacon’s threshing floor, Uzzah reached out to the ark of God and took hold of it because the oxen had stumbled.

God’s blessing-plan and your backup-plan mix like oil and water

Imagine a church business meeting that goes something like this:

“Guys, we’ve got to move this church to a different level, a different place of influence. Let’s pray.”

They pray.

“What do you think God is saying?” One young man, John, recently elected as an elder says, “During prayer, I think I heard that God wants us to be faithful stewards. If we’re good stewards of our time in prayer, good stewards of the relationships we have with our congregation and good stewards with the small funds we have right now, I think He’ll bless us and we’ll move to whatever level of influence He wants us.”

Some of the men listened, while others checked their i-phones. Some just dropped their heads as if to excuse themselves from the conversation. After a bit of awkward silence, the chair of the committee spoke up.

“John, that sounds like a good idea. God certainly wants us to be faithful stewards. But if that doesn’t work, shouldn’t we consider something else? As a contingency to what John is suggesting, I would like to discuss the option of using our small reserve funds to either hire a younger more energetic worship leader, pave our gravel parking lot, purchase a new sound system or replace the carpet in our sanctuary.” Now everyone was suddenly tuned in and interested. Except God.

This type of “contingency planning” doesn’t just happen in the Church today. It happens in individual lives. Just like Uzzah failed to be a God-fearing, God-trusting faithful steward of the ark and transport it with men instead of oxen, Uzzah had a contingency plan. “I’ll skip the faithful stewardship part and have oxen carry the ark instead and I’ll just stand beside it to make sure it doesn’t fall.” That didn’t turn out to well for him.

When you know what God wants, contingency planning is faithless. A contingency plan means you’re not “all in.” And if you’re not in, He won’t be either.

God’s blessing-plan and your backup-plan mix like oil and water.

Imagine if at the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, the disciples had said, “Whoa Jesus! Hang on! Don’t bless and break that bread yet. Before we try this miracle, we really feel like we should call in some Greyhound busses to prepare to take these folks back to town where they can eat. That’s only if this loaf multiplication thing doesn’t work. So, let’s at least get the busses on standby before we move on with this attempt.” They dial Greyhound and set the contingency plan in motion then turn back to Jesus. “Okay, we’re good. You can go for it now.” What do you think Jesus would have done? I’m betting He would have announced to the crowd, “Folks, Greyhound busses will be arriving shortly to take you home. My disciples will be joining you.” The miracle? They missed it.

The fundamental question that must be asked by each of us is, “Are we taking care of God or is He taking care of us?” It might be worth considering that it’s one or the other.

Jebusite Jerusalem

2 Samuel 5:8 He said that day, “Whoever attacks the Jebusites must go through the water shaft to reach the lame and the blind who are despised by David.” For this reason it is said, “The blind and the lame will never enter the house.”

Some commentators think there is a reason to believe that the Jebusites were literally posting the lame and the blind on the city wall because of its supposed impregnability.  Regardless, it seems clear that David has no regard for them. The city was God’s and David intended to take it. And if the lame and the blind despised Israel’s king, the king seemed at ease in reciprocating: “For this reason it is said, The blind and the lame will never enter the house.”

The Jebusites were not using the crippled as a manipulative ploy on David’s pity, but rather out of arrogance and foolishness. However, David’s lack of apparent pity is noteworthy as it relates to areas of stronghold in our own lives.

I have counseled countless people who have had their own “Jebusite Jerusalems,” personal strongholds where God is walled off by bricks and mortar that are a mix of debility and an expectation of pity.  Oh how many times I’ve seen godlessness justified by some particular circumstance. Just this last May, 22 year old Elliot Roger killed 6 people before taking his own life. Why? Because of his circumstances; in this case, social rejection.    In September of 2011 a large number of people abandoned productivity in a call to “occupy Wall Street.” Why? Because of their circumstance; in this case, sense of powerlessness. The examples are endless in which godlessness is justified because of personal circumstance with an expectation of pity.  Possibly, the most common occurs as part of our welfare system.  Daily, the poor justify taking from others through a system that Bastiat rightly called “legalized plunder.” Why? Again, because of circumstance; in this case, poverty. Addiction, anger, abuse, laziness, and many other “Jebusite Jerusalems” are often sustained by pity.

David would have none of it. God belonged on the inside of the city and no pity would be shown during the invasion. My prayer is that whatever sorrowful, painful or debilitating circumstance in my life has me justifying a godless position, I would like David “despise the lame and the blind” and then turn my “Jebusite Jerusalem” over to the rightful King.

Moved and Shaken

2 Samuel 3:9-10 May God punish Abner and do so severely if I don’t do for David what the LORD swore to him: to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish the throne of David over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beer-sheba.”

Abner has been corrupted. To know God’s intent but to ignore it is to be corrupt and Abner has obviously known God’s intent for David, but has ignored it… until now. Why now? Why suddenly this point of transition in allegiance from Ishbosheth’s Israel to David’s Judah? We have to look back a few lines to verse 6: “Abner kept acquiring more power in the house of Saul.” Power. There’s a lot of power shifting in this chapter. All the power of the king of Israel is shifting to David and it’s a turbulent process and people are being influenced.  In the shift, we learn a great deal about the effect of power on men.

In physics, power is defined as the rate at which work is performed. People of power are more than people with potential. They are called “movers and shakers” for a reason. Work is being performed. Power (moving, shaking and working) is not intrinsically marred or corrupt, but it does tend to mar and corrupt.

You may ask, “But when Abner became powerful, didn’t he shift allegiance to David who was the Lord’s chosen? Wasn’t that the right thing to do?” Yes. But if we consider not what he did when he had power, but what he didn’t do when he didn’t have power, we learn something important about the influence of power on our own lives.

Power doesn’t just tend to corrupt the “movers and shakers”.  It tends to move and shake those in its vicinity.

Before Abner gained power in Israel, who had it? Ishbosheth the king. In fact, he had the most power. He ruled over all the tribes of Israel against David’s Judah. He was of the house of Saul, Saul’s son, the second in line to the first of Israel’s kings. He had the power. And even though Abner knew of the Lord’s favor for David, he chose to remain with Ishbosheth. Why? Because Ishbosheth had the most power. He was the mover and the shaker and it corrupted Abner, moving him to remain with the illegitimate king. Read on and there are other examples of power corrupting the beholder as much as the possessor. (2 Sam 4:8, and remember 1 Sam 1:10)

Consider Satan’s temptations of Jesus after his forty day fast. Satan uses both tactics. He reminds Jesus of His power and tempts Him to use it inappropriately, but he also reminds Jesus that he also has power and with it, he makes an offer in an attempt  influence Jesus.

Power is not corrupt in itself, but when you find yourself in its proximity, it will tend to affect you. Watch for its influence and guard yourself against it.  The enemy will always use it in an attempt to sideline God.

Blessed to Work

2 Samuel 3:29 May it hang over Joab’s head and his father’s whole house, and may the house of Joab never be without someone who has a discharge or a skin disease, or a man who can only work a spindle, or someone who falls by the sword or starves.”

Work is for more than material gain. Just recently, after a time of prayer, Marsha told me she had a fresh reminder from God that her work is a form of serving people rather than just running a profiting business.  But the value of work even goes beyond how it provides goods and services to others in our society.

It is a blessing to the laborer.

Consider this passage carefully.  It would not have surprised anyone if King David had killed Joab for his technique of ridding Israel of Abner.  It just wasn’t David’s style to deceive someone, then stab him in the stomach. And some precedent had already been set that dishonorable killings thought to please David actually had quite a backfire effect.  But David didn’t kill Joab. He needed his top military commander. However, he did curse him and his family. Note that the curse has three pieces:

1. Disease and sickness

2. Famine and sword

3. Disability or to “work with the spindle.”

How interesting that an inability to labor with vigor is compared to perishing by disease, famine or war!

Now consider that if the curses are disease, famine, war and disability, then blessing is the opposite: health, provision, peace… and labor.

Work hard. Be blessed.


Temper Zeal

2 Samuel 2:18-19 The three sons of Zeruiah were there: Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Asahel was a fast runner, like one of the wild gazelles.  He chased Abner and did not turn to the right or the left in his pursuit of him.

Regardless of our vocation, hobbies and interests, all Christians are linked by at least one common calling; the ministry of reconciliation. We are, in one form or another, called to use our gifting in God to minister to the lost always carrying the hope of seeing our wayward friend or neighbor reconciled to God as God intends.

In many ways, it is a pursuit of the enemy; an offensive to thwart his plot, to take back what he’s stolen, to eradicate his influence. Consider Asahel’s pursuit of his enemy, Abner.  Asahel was famous. For what? His speed. Scripture says he ran like a gazelle. Who could catch him? What could stop him? Strangely, it was the one who couldn’t outrun him who ended his life. It seems that Abner may have thrust his spear into the earth leaving the other end to impale Asahel who was closing in, running too fast to avoid his own peril. Ouch and Yikes.

Over the last 15 years of ministry, I have seen some Asahels fall.  They are usually “famous” for one thing.  They have an incredible outstanding quality and are well known for it, often very charismatic and may seem “unstoppable.” Their zeal is remarkable and the intent of their pursuit is often rooted in truth, but they lack moving at a wise pace and think little of waiting for others to join them. The one outstanding gift they have creates a false sense of assuredness that tempts them to rely upon it rather than the One who gifted it. And failure looms.

If Asahel had only slowed down and waited for his brother, Joab, things would have been different.  Joab wasn’t famous for his speed, but he knew how to get rid of Abner. (See the next chapter).  It may seem strange to consider that zeal ever needs tempered, but if it leads us to arrogant independence and a false sense of surety, then rein it in for danger looms. And if you meet another brother or sister who his falling into the “Abner trap,” plead with him to slow down, suggest tempering zeal with wisdom, and then consider joining him in the pursuit.