Reflections on the Death of Christ

Last updated Apr 6, 2012 by

Two years ago I attended a conference in Rockford, Illinois where the organizers arranged with publishers to give away books to registrants. In the stack I received was a volume that I have recently begun to comb through. In My Place Condemned He Stood    is not newly written; it is a compilation of J. I. Packer writings on the death of Christ with contributions by Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan. I commend all of it to you.

Reflecting on the death of Christ this Friday, here are some questions and answers that Dr. Packer offers in the introduction of the book under the heading “The Essence of the Atonement”:

How did Christ’s sacrificial death actually save us—that is, rescue us from jeopardy and ruin? By redeeming us, which means effecting our transfer from a state of bondage without hope to a state of freedom with a future, by paying the price that the transfer required. . . .

How then did the cross actually redeem us, through Jesus’ death? By reconciling us to God, ending the alienation and estrangement that were previously there, linking God and us together in new harmony, replacing enmity between us with friendship and peace, by means of the putting away of our sins. (See Rom 5:11; Col 1:19-22.)

So how did the cross actually reconcile us to God, and God to us? By being a propitiation, ending God’s judicial wrath against us. (See Rom 3:24.)

And how did the cross actually propitiate God? By being an event of substitution, whereby at the Father’s will the sinless Son bore the retribution due to us guilty ones. (See 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:13; Col 2:14) (p 24-25, emphasis original)

Then Packer recites an “analysis of insights basic to personal religion that faith in Christ as one’s penal substitute yields,” which he wrote decades ago.

  1. God, in Denney’s phrase, “condones nothing,” but judges all sin as it deserves: which Scripture affirms, and my conscience confirms, to be right.
  2. My sins merit ultimate penal suffering and rejection from God’s presence (conscience also confirms this), and nothing I do can blot them out.
  3. The penalty due to me for my sins, whatever it was, was paid for me by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in his death on the cross.
  4. Because this is so, I through faith in him am made “the righteousness of God in him,” i.e., I am justified; pardon, acceptance, and sonship [to God] become mine.
  5. Christ’s death for me is my sole ground of hope before God. “If he fulfilled not justice, I must; if he underwent not wrath, I must to eternity” (John Owen).
  6. My faith in Christ is God’s own gift to me, given in virtue of Christ’s death for me: i.e., the cross procured it.
  7. Christ’s death for me guarantees my preservation to glory.
  8. Christ’s death for me is the measure and pledge of the love of the Father and the Son to me.
  9. Christ’s death for me calls and constrains me to trust, to worship, to love, and to serve.

(citation of Tyndale Bulletin 25, 1974, 42-43; 25-26)

Oh, the depth of the riches
both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!
How unsearchable His judgments
and untraceable His ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been His counselor?
Or who has ever first given to Him,
and has to be repaid?
For from Him and through Him
and to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36, HCSB)