How can a just God be loving toward rebellious sinners who are due his wrath? How can God satisfy his character and save our souls at the same time? The blood of the Lamb of God satisfies the wrath of God and saves the children of God. In this message on Exodus 24, Pastor David Platt makes a biblical case for the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.
- The captives were delivered by blood.
- The covenant was confirmed by blood.
- The Christ will shed his blood.
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.
“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you. And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever. In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.”
Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.
At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. Then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!”
The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.
The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.
And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. No foreigner or hired servant may eat of it. It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”
All the people of Israel did just as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron. And on that very day the LORD brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.
Let’s Continue Our Study of Exodus
If you have a Bible, and I hope you do, I invite you to open with me to Exodus 12. We are walking through the entire Bible as a church, and this past week I had so much to choose from to preach on from this past week. We have read about ten plagues in Egypt, the Passover where God was delivering His people to the middle of the Red Sea, leading His people by a pillar of cloud during the day and a fire by night and feeding His people with bread from heaven and water from a rock; bringing His people to Mount Sinai where He reveals Himself as a consuming fire. He gives the Ten Commandments, the Book of the Covenant. He starts and confirms the Mosaic Covenant, and I’ve got to pick one of these passages to preach on.
There is an entire Secret Church here, and we could settle in for a good six hours and dive into this picture, but what I want to do instead is I want us to look, with kind of a bird’s eye view, at two particular chapters, Exodus 12 and Exodus 24. I want us to trace a theme in these two chapters that will point us to Christ. That theme is “Blood That Satisfies.” I want to show you indescribable, unfathomable love on this day today.
So, here’s the deal, let’s recap what happened up until this point in Exodus 12 that we have read. We saw last week that God reveals Himself as “Yahweh the LORD” to Moses. Him and Aaron are told to go to Pharaoh. So, they go to Pharaoh and say, “Let my people go.” However, Pharaoh’s heart is hard. So, this begins the process of plagues.
The Plagues of Exodus are Numerous
The first plague, Aaron spreads out the staff over the waters of the Nile, and they turn to blood. This god-like source of life and, really, source of worship in Egypt is turned into a picture of death. In the second plague, the staff is spread out, and frogs come out of the water and onto the land, and there were frogs everywhere. What I love about the second plague is the magicians that are standing there with Pharaoh decide they want to show their power as well, and so they bring out more frogs. Like, you’d think if they wanted to show their power, they would send the frogs back, but instead, they make the problem worse, and there are frogs everywhere.
Things are not going well in Egypt, which leads to the third plague, the plague of gnats. The magicians can’t replicate this one. They conclude, “This must be the finger of God,” as gnats are covering everything. The fourth plague is the first plague where we see a distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites, the plague of flies. Flies are covering all of the Egyptians, including those magicians, and they’re not at all touching the Israelites. All of that is leading to the fifth plague, the livestock. The livestock in Egypt die, but the livestock among the Israelites lives, there in the land of Goshen.
With the sixth plague, Moses throws soot from the kiln into the air, and all of a sudden, all of these Egyptians, including the magicians again, are covered in boils, setting the stage for the seventh plague. When you have boils all over your body, then the last thing you want to do is be touched by anyone or anything. So, hail begins to fall from the sky, and hail and lightening like Egypt had never seen since it became a nation comes crashing down and ruins everything. Plague number eight is the locusts, who eat away everything that is green.
Plague number nine is the plague of darkness. Picture this contrast: you have total darkness for three days over the Egyptians. There is no electricity. They can’t even see each other. They stay inside, and yet, over in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites are, there is the light of day. There is a major contrast between the two. All of that leading to plague number ten, when God says to Moses and Aaron, “Go to Pharaoh and warn him that if he does not let my people go, then at midnight, I will strike down the firstborn in every single house. Every man, every animal, firstborn will be struck down.” It is a picture of death pervading the land. Families, the promised heirs, so to speak, totally wiped out.
We See Pharoh Resisting God
Over and over again, Pharaoh’s heart is hard toward God. He is resisting God. He is asserting his own lordship instead of submitting to the lordship of Yahweh, which sets the stage for the Passover in Exodus 12. What I want us to think about is the difference that separates the Israelites from the Egyptians in Exodus 12. This moment in redemptive history when God’s people, after 400-plus years in slavery, are delivered out of Egypt. Why? How were they delivered? The answer: the captives were delivered by blood. This is how God chose to deliver His people from slavery in Egypt, by blood.
Now, we talked last week about the attributes and the characteristics of the Lord, of Yahweh, and we talked about a variety of different characteristics. I want us to hone in in is Exodus 12 and two particular portraits of the Lord. First, we see Him in Exodus 12 as the holy Judge. We talked last week about how God is holy. The Lord is completely separate, perfectly unique, and absolutely pure. He is holy in all of His ways. He is untouched by sin. He is totally intolerable of sin. He is holy, and He is just. He is dead set against sin. He hates sin, and His very character mandates that He pour out judgment on sin. So, this is the portrait of the Lord here; He is the holy judge.
Sinful man before a holy judge deserves destruction. This is the word that is used in Exodus 12:13 and 23. We see a picture of the destroyer: “The destroyer will come over your house.” Don’t miss it: Exodus 12, the destroyer is going to come to every single house, Israelite and Egyptian alike, and no one is immune. The destroyer will go to every single house because all the people, Israelites and Egyptians alike, deserve destruction. All are sinners, all are sinful men and women before holy God. So, the picture we see here is the judgment of God in a serious, severe, and significant way in Exodus 12. It makes us uncomfortable a little bit because we think, “Well, a destroyer is going to kill all the first born. I mean, think about the cries coming out from Egypt.” However, this is where we need to realize that sin before Holy God is serious. It is deadly serious, and man deserves destruction.
We Also See the Grace of God
At the same time, while we see a holy Judge in the portrait of the Lord, we also see the loving Savior. We see that God gives grace. He makes a way of salvation for His people. How? How does God enable His people to escape His wrath? The answer is His provision through the blood of a spotless lamb. This is the love and the grace of God, that He enables His people to escape His wrath by providing a substitute instead. The blood of a spotless lamb is the decisive difference between the cries of sorrow in Egypt and the shouts of freedom among the Israelites. It’s not because the Israelites were better than the Egyptians. It’s not because the Israelites had done anything to earn the favor of God. The picture is God had shown them, “There is a substitute for you, that when the destroyer comes to your house, here’s what you were to have done. Take a lamb who is spotless and bring it into your house for four days.”
Now, a little background here. I’m not an animal lover. I’m not a big fan of animals in the house. I grew up with animals in the house, and that persuaded me not to be a fan of animals in the house. I don’t want to offend animal lovers, but we have a gerbil and a fish and that is as far as we’re going. I don’t have to touch or do anything with either of them, and that is good, but I know enough, and you know, that when you bring an animal into your house, there is a bond that is created with this animal. Whether it is a dog, a cat, or whatever it might be, a bond is established. So, you bring a lamb, this nice innocent lamb into your house for four days for you and your children to play with and to care for and to feed and provide for, to bond with. Then, God says, “After four days, you slaughter the lamb.”
Imagine being a child in one of these households and spending four days with this nice cute lamb. Then, daddy takes the lamb and slaughters it and takes the blood of the lamb and puts it over the door post of the house. If you’re a 5-year-old, that’s an image that doesn’t leave you; that sticks with you for a long time. You go up to your daddy, and you say, “Why did you kill the lamb? Why are you putting its blood over our door?” The father would say, “This lamb’s a substitute. Death would come to our house and our family if this lamb did not die instead of us, and when you look, son, or daughter, at the door post, and you see the blood of the lamb over there, you can know that when every other house in Egypt is crying out because death has come, we can know that we are safe because we have the blood of the lamb over us.” That’s the picture that God was ingraining in His people.
Exodus Shows Us that God is Both Judge and Savior
A holy Judge brings destruction, yet, a loving Savior gives grace with the blood of a spotless lamb, and by grace, this sacrifice is acceptable to God. It must be done the way God has said. “A lamb without spot or blemish; don’t break the lamb’s bones.” It’s a picture of a whole lamb sacrificed for you. Its blood symbolizes its life, and when it is shed on your behalf, in your place, then you will live. You deserve death, but when the destroyer comes, you will live because this sacrifice is acceptable to God, and through faith, this sacrifice is applied to you. This is the picture.
The only people that were exempt from the judgment of God on that dreadful night in Exodus 12 were the people who believed that by having blood over their door post, they would be saved. Through faith, it was applied to them. Don’t miss this: it’s not because the Israelites were better people than the Egyptians. It was because they believed in the sacrifice that God had prescribed, and they trusted in the blood of this lamb. The captives were delivered by blood.
The story continues from that point. God gives instructions for how they were to remember this. He leads them, as I mentioned, with a pillar. Can you imagine the scene, as a community of faith, following after the presence of God with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night? How awe-inspiring! God leads them, of all places, to the edge of the Red Sea. The Egyptians are running after them by this point, ready to overtake them, and God leads them to a dead end and right into this body of water. Why? So that, Exodus 14:4 says, He might gain glory for Himself. He splits that sea in half and sends His people through on dry land. They would look in their rear-view mirrors, and the water would come crashing down over the Egyptians. God says, “Pharaoh and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, and I deliver my people and bring my judgment upon the Egyptians.”
Moses sings in Exodus 15. You know, it’s a memory verse from this week, “The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” Then, we see the people on a journey with God, where He is providing them bread from heaven. When there is no water, He provides water from a rock, and He leads them to Mount Sinai. Look at Exodus 19 with me.
Now, you remember last week in Exodus 3 when Moses saw the burning bush and conversed with the bush, and God said, “I’m going to bring my people out of slavery, and I’m going to bring you to this place to worship me on this mountain.” Now, in Exodus 19, we’re back there. We’re on the Mountain at Sinai, and listen to God’s words to Moses in verse 3,
Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.’”
We Have Intimate Access to God
Listen to those words: You are “my treasured possession…I will be your God, you will be my people…a kingdom of priests.” “You have intimate access to the glory of God, and you are a holy nation. You will be set apart. You will be distinct from all other peoples.” What will set you apart? That’s the picture we see in Exodus 20, is He gives them His laws, the Ten Commandments. “Here’s how you will experience life in me and walk with me and be distinct.” The first four of those Ten Commandments deal with love toward God, honoring Him and Him alone. It involves not making images and revering His name and worshiping Him on the Sabbath. Then, the last six commands, show us how love toward God is expressed in love towards others and not murdering or stealing or lying, not coveting but honoring your neighbor.
So, we have the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. In Exodus 21-23, God continues to give laws, regulations, guidelines to Moses, case laws, and the Book of the Covenant, all leading now to Exodus 24:1. Amidst everything else that’s going on in Exodus, this passage is just breathtaking. Exodus 24 may be most important in the entire book of Exodus because this is where God confirms His covenant with His people through Moses, the Mosaic Covenant. We cannot overestimate the significance of this. One writer said, “There is no way to describe adequately the implications of this chapter. Everyone from Moses to Jeremiah to Jesus to Peter and every other biblical writer who has anything to say about covenant reflects directly or indirectly on this passage. This is the climax where God confirms His covenant with His people.” What I want us to see is that the covenant is confirmed by blood. Captives are delivered by blood; the covenant is confirmed by blood. Read it with me, Exodus 24:1.
God, the Lord,
said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship him from afar.” [The picture of the whole nation represented in that number seventy.] “Moses alone shall come near to the LORD, but the others shall not come hear, and the people shall not come up with him.”
Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold, the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.”
This Chapter Tells of a New Covenant Relationship
A covenant relationship with God confirmed on this mountain by blood. I want you to see two things here. Behold, first, the significance of God’s law. Exodus 24:3, “Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and the rules.” The Book of the Covenant that we see in Exodus 20-23, he reads the word of the law to him. This is the first picture, really, of public worship that we see in Scripture. All the elements of public worship are here. A call to worship, a reading of God’s Word, the response of God’s people, and a sacramental meal is all happening here. This is a picture of worship on the mountain; it’s what God had said He was going to do and now it’s happening. God gives His Word, Moses reads it over His people, and the people respond, “We will obey all the Lord has said.” See the significance of God’s law. His covenant is grounded in His Word; His Word toward us, and His Word received by us; that’s the picture of covenant here.
However, do not just see the significance of God’s law, but also behold the beauty of God’s mercy. At the center of this covenant is not just the Word and the people saying, “Yes, we’ll obey it.” That’s not all there is. In addition, there’s an altar. Wherever we see worship anywhere in Scripture, there’s always a picture of sacrifice. Wherever there is worship from sinful man going toward Holy God, it requires a sacrifice. Sinful man cannot approach Holy God on his own merit. Sinful man cannot stand in the presence of a holy and just God, and so, there is always sacrifice involved in worship. We’ve seen this from the very beginning in Genesis 3 and 4, and it’s all the way to this point. There’s always an altar involved there. So, Moses says two offerings: a whole offering, or a burnt offering consumed by fire, and peace offerings, or fellowship offerings.
Now, this is where it gets really interesting. He takes the blood from the animals, and he throws part of it on the altar. This is a picture of the fact that God’s people are forgiven by blood. God’s people are forgiven by the blood of a sacrifice. This is what blood on the altar always represents: forgiveness of sins. A holy God must pour out judgment, wrath, and payment on sin, so there must be a picture of that judgment and payment having been paid. That’s the picture of the sacrifice. There is blood on the altar, and people are forgiven by the blood of a sacrifice.
Then, this is where it gets kind of weird. Moses takes blood and pours it into a basin, and then he goes toward the people, and he throws blood on them. Aren’t you glad we don’t do this in our worship? Can you imagine me getting a bucket and just walking throughout the room and splattering blood on you? It almost seems barbaric, just foreign, but this is where we need to realize the significance of blood.
Blood is Significant in Exodus
Do we realize this is, obviously, not something we talk a lot about in contemporary Christianity? Blood doesn’t draw the crowds, but if we miss the significance of blood in Scripture and blood in the relationship we have with God, we will miss the whole point of the gospel. In our efforts to pretty up the gospel and make it as attractive as possible, we may undercut the very foundation of the gospel. So, blood is poured out and cast out over the people. This is a picture of how God’s people are not just forgiven by blood, but God’s people are covered with blood. God is binding His people to Himself through the blood of the covenant. That’s Exodus 24:8. He “took the blood and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” It’s blood that is reconciling man to God. It’s blood that is enabling and making this relationship with God possible.
See what happens right after this; right after God’s people are covered with blood and bound to Him in covenant through the blood of the sacrifice, listen to what happens in verse 9, “Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up and they saw the God of Israel.” Underline the beginning of verse 10 there. That is an astounding statement, “They saw the God of Israel.” We just saw back in Exodus 19 when God was revealing Himself on Mount Sinai, “Don’t get near the mountain. Don’t even touch the mountain. Moses, go tell the people that if they try to break through to see the Lord, they will be consumed.” Now, because of the blood of a sacrifice that has forgiven them and covered them, they see God.
Now, obviously, they don’t see His face in all of His glory. What’s described here is they just saw what was just under His footstool, and even that is too glorious to even be able to describe without comparison, “as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.” However, He did not lay His hand on them; they beheld God. Literally, they gazed upon His glory. That’s literally what it’s saying. They gazed upon the glory of God, and they ate and drank! To eat at the same table is a picture of fellowship and peace with God, communion with God, and they gazed on His glory, and they celebrated in His presence. This is not just a solemn picture; this is a joyful celebration. Deity and humanity are communing together with one another on this cosmic mountain; this is an incredible scene of worship. They see His glory, and they celebrate in His presence, all because of the blood of a sacrifice that forgave them and covered them.
Exodus 24 Confirms the New Covenant
So, we have these two stories: Exodus 12 where the captives are being delivered by the blood of the spotless lamb, and Exodus 24 where the covenant is confirmed by the blood of a sacrifice. This is where I want you to see how these two pictures in redemptive history are pointing us supremely to a much greater picture that has implications for every single one of our lives. Captives are delivered by blood, the covenant is confirmed by blood, and this is pointing us to the day when Christ will shed His blood. This is where I want to show you the gospel in these pictures in Exodus, and what they point us to in Christ.
Here’s the deal: there is, what I would call, the question of the Bible. From Genesis 3 on, the question that the Bible must answer is the supreme question in all the universe, and the question is this: How can a just God be loving toward rebellious sinners who are due his wrath? That’s the question. How can a holy God who is just in all of His ways be loving toward rebellious sinners who are due His wrath? How can God love, be kind to, and be merciful to sinners if He is just? Now, that’s not the question we think about very often. It’s not often the way we look at it. There’s not a lot of people today that are losing sleep over how God could be so kind to sinners. Instead, we reverse it, and we point the finger at God. When we read passages like Exodus 12, or we see the effects of sin around us, or we think about the reality of hell, we point the finger at God, and we say, “How could you be so judgmental towards sinners? How could you show such judgment and wrath and punishment toward sinners? We deserve love, and you showing wrath, how can this be? How can you be God and show wrath?” We think like that because we think from a man-centered perspective.
The Bible looks at things from a very God-centered perspective, and the question in the Bible then is, “How can God be supremely holy and supremely worthy of all worship and supremely just? For those who rebel against Him, who assert their authority against Him, spurn His authority over them and turn from Him, how can God be just and love them and forgive them and show mercy to them at the same time?” Feel the tension here. How can God express the full breath of His infinite holiness without consuming us in our sin? How can you stand before a holy God?
In Isaiah 6, Isaiah’s immediate response to the holiness of God was, “Woe is me! Woe is me! There’s no way I can be in the presence of a holy God.” In the same way, how can God express His love toward us without condoning us in our sin? How can God express the full realm of all of His attributes toward us in our sin?
Think about it this way. Look at 2 Samuel 12:13. Remember King David? He was guilty of adultery, lying and murder. The prophet Nathan comes to confront David, and says, “You’re guilty of adultery and lying and murder,” and David says, “I’ve sinned against the Lord.” Nathan says, “The Lord has forgiven you,” and that’s it. Now, how is that possible? Is this just? Put a judge in the courtroom in our day and put an adulterer and a murder before him, and the judge just says, “Well, I forgive you.” Is that judge just? No. We’d have that judge off the bench in a heartbeat, wouldn’t we? Where is the justice in that? That’s not true and right justice. This is where we realize that God’s forgiveness of sinners is a threat to His very character.
John Stott said, “God’s forgiveness towards sinners is the profoundest of problems.” We’ve got to see this. We’ve got to feel this tension. We don’t think this way. How can God be completely holy and completely just and yet forgive us when we rebel against Him? To put it another way: how can God satisfy His character and save our souls at the same time? That’s the question that the gospel must answer.
Let me give you another picture. Turn to Proverbs 17:15. It says, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.” Now, did you catch what we just read? “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both are an abomination to the LORD.” To justify the wicked is an abomination to the Lord. Now, what is salvation all about? Isn’t salvation God saying to those who are wicked, “You are justified.” Isn’t it saying to those who are guilty, “You are innocent.”? Proverbs 17:15 makes it clear that it’s an abomination of the very character of God.
So, how can God justify the wicked and still be holy and good and just? This is where we come to the beauty of the gospel. How can God satisfy His character and save our souls at the same time? We’re going to unpack this what satisfaction is. Satisfaction through substitution brings salvation. I want you to follow with me really closely here. I want you to catch this and let this soak in. Through divine satisfaction on the cross, the totality of God’s character is expressed. Look at the cross and see the justice of God. Does He judge sin? Absolutely. He judges it to the full. Does He pour out holy wrath on sin? Yes. See that in the cross and, at the same time, does He love sinners? Yes. Is He merciful toward the wicked? Yes.
We See a Picture of Divine Substitution
At the same time He is pouring out wrath, He is substituting Himself. Divine substitution: Jesus, God in the flesh, is the one who bears the wrath and takes the payment and sheds the blood, and salvation through God’s Son is achieved. He shows His justice, holiness, love and mercy by substituting Himself in our place.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made the one who had no sin to be sin for us, instead of us, in order that we might become the righteousness of God.” Divine satisfaction and divine substitution leads to divine salvation. Picture this: the essence of sin: man substitutes himself for God. Isn’t that the essence of sin and a sinful heart? It is you and I saying, “I’m God. I’m in control.” It’s the pride in our hearts that says, “I do what I want to do. I spurn the authority over me. I direct my life.” It’s Pharaoh, isn’t it? It’s Pharaoh asserting himself as God. He’s the one who calls the shots, hardening his heart toward God.
Don’t miss the point: we are Pharaoh. See yourself, brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen, in Pharaoh, substituting ourselves for God. The glorious, beautiful reality of Scripture, and the essence of salvation is that when we substitute ourselves for God, God saves us by substituting Himself for man. He puts Himself in our place under the payment of our sin, and this is what the blood of Christ is all about. The blood of the Lamb of God satisfies the wrath of God and saves the children of God. Yes, that’s the gospel.
God substitutes His Son on the cross. He was fully man and fully God. He sheds His blood, satisfies His wrath and saves our souls. This is what happens because of the blood of Christ, and it’s why, all throughout the New Testament, we read words like, “We are justified by his blood.” Ephesians 1, 1 Timothy 1, and 1 Peter 1 tell us we are redeemed by His blood. 1 John 1:7 says we have forgiveness through His blood. Romans 3:25 says God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in His blood. It’s all about the blood of the Lamb of God.
Grace Saves Us from Sin
By grace, His sacrifice is acceptable to God. There is no one else in all history who is perfect, blameless, pure and spotless that could pay the price for our sins. No one else who could take the full wrath of the Father upon Himself. There is no one else. By grace, His sacrifice is alone acceptable to God. It is a better sacrifice, Hebrews says, than everything in the Old Testament put together. He is a better mediator than Moses, a better lamb than all the lambs that were offered year after year. He alone is able to take the full payment of our sin. By grace, His sacrifice is acceptable to God.
Through faith, it is applied to us. It is the same picture that we saw in Exodus 12. These men and women in slavery on that night of the Passover knew that they were safe because of one thing; they knew they were safe because there was blood over their house. So know this: to every man and woman, no matter how dark your sinful past is, no matter how guilty your conscience is, no matter how filthy your past is, when you are trusting in the blood of Christ over your life, you are saved in the presence of God, and you are free from the power of sin. Not because you’re better or have done more or you’re religious or you’ve checked off the boxes, but only through faith and only through trust in His blood; that’s all. That was the decisive difference on that night of the Passover, and it is the decisive difference in every single one of our lives, when one day you and I will stand before a holy God to give an account for our lives. The ultimate question on that day is, “Did you trust in His blood?” Are you trusting right now in His blood?
Oh, Christian, don’t miss this. We leave this glorious truth behind, and we begin to live our Christian lives like our acceptance before God is now based on what we are doing, how often we are praying, or how much we are reading the Bible. What are we doing here and here, and yes, obedience flows in a relationship with Christ, but don’t miss this: your acceptance before God at this moment is still totally based on the blood of Christ over your life. Whenever the Adversary comes to you with condemnation, you trust with confidence in the fact that you are under the blood of Christ, and you are free from condemnation. You have access to God, and we now gaze upon His glory! We have been forgiven by the blood of sacrifice, covered by the blood of sacrifice, and we behold God! We have access to God! We see Him, and we know Him. What Old Testament saints longed for, we experience in a glorious, grand way. We see, and we behold the glory of God, and we celebrate in His presence. We have peace with Him.
I want to show you another verse. Remember when Moses said in Exodus 24, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you, and this results in this fellowship meal”? Well, Jesus, right before He prepares to go to the cross, uses the same words except He changes one very pivotal word. In Matthew 26, He does not say, “This is the blood of the covenant.” He says, “This is my blood of the covenant.” Moses is pointing to another’s blood and the sacrifice of another. Jesus comes to His disciples, and He says, “I am going to the cross where I’m going to give my blood, and your relationship with God is going to be sealed by what I do.”