Belgic Confession Articles 20-21 deal the justice and mercy of God, and with the sufferings and death of Christ for our salvation.
Belgic Confession, Article 20; Day 1: God Perfectly Merciful and Just
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Psalm 85:10: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”
Christians believe—rightly—that God is love. But for many Christians God is only love. The other attributes of God, which are equally important, are often neglected, or only begrudgingly confessed. Many in the church do not like to think about God’s justice, righteousness, holiness or wrath. Some even imagine that the God of justice was the Old Testament God, and the God of mercy is the New Testament God. Others believe that God is an angry, vindictive deity, but that Jesus came to persuade God to be merciful to us.
The Belgic Confession already taught us in Article 1 that God is simple. God’s simplicity means that He is one in being and one in His attributes. The simple God cannot be a confusion of characteristics so that His love, mercy and grace are in conflict with His justice, righteousness and holiness. God does not overcome His justice by His mercy. God’s mercy does not swallow up His justice. God’s mercy is just, righteous, holy mercy. God is both justice and mercy at the same time. We have difficulty understanding that, perhaps, because we are a confusion of complicated emotions. We often find ourselves conflicted. Our hearts are in turmoil at times. But God is the ever blessed one. He is not like us. He is perfectly at harmony within Himself.
God’s mercy is not well understood. Many have defined it as the delay in punishment, not giving a man the punishment he deserves. But not all delay in punishment is mercy. When God delays the punishment of the wicked it is so that they might fill the cup of iniquity and receive the heavier punishment in the end. That is not mercy! Mercy is a positive attitude of pity or compassion upon one who is miserable. God’s mercy in the Bible is often called His tender mercy or His lovingkindness. When God has mercy on a sinner He not only desires to relieve misery—and remember that our misery is our sin—but He actually powerfully delivers from mercy and makes blessed. Scripture tells us that God is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4). We sing of God’s mercy: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.”
God is perfectly—eternally, unchangeably, infinitely—merciful!
And God is just. God’s justice is His unswerving commitment to Himself as the ultimate standard of perfection. When we say that a person or an action is just we have in mind a standard. A judge is called just when he legislates in such a way that he upholds the law. A law might be said to be just when it is in harmony with existing legislation. There is no standard or measurement outside of God Himself to which God must conform. God is the standard. God’s justice is His harmony with Himself. Because God is just He must punish sin. He must be against everything that does not harmonize with Himself. “For the righteous LORD loveth righteousness …” (Ps. 11:7). “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all His ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He” (Deut. 32:4).
That is our God—the only true God. He is perfectly merciful, overflowing in goodness and compassion for miserable sinners; and He is perfectly just, committed to righteousness and truth, incapable of the slightest deviation from perfection. This God will save sinners—for He is merciful—and He will do so in such a way that sin is punished—for He is just.
Merciful and just in Jesus Christ. Do you know this God by faith in His Son?
Belgic Confession, Article 20; Day 2: God’s Son Making Satisfaction
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Matthew 20:28: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
God is perfectly merciful and just. God has compassion on miserable sinners, and does not punish us. And God punishes sin, so that salvation never contradicts His justice. This happens through satisfaction. Satisfaction means to do or pay enough. When God is satisfied—and He must be if sinners are to be saved—all the righteous demands of His Law are met. God’s demands are twofold. First, God demands that the creature—man—render full, perfect, lifelong obedience. This means that we must love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. That was the demand which Adam was able to fulfill by virtue of His creation in the image of God—until he fell. That demand was never revoked, and it can never be revoked. If God were to revoke that demand, He would be saying that it no longer matters to Him that He be loved by His creatures. He would then be saying that He is something less than the ever blessed God, worthy of all glory, honour and praise. In short, God would be denying Himself. The creature—whether in a state of innocence or fallen—is eternally obligated to adore God with everything that is in him. Anything less is sin. Second, now that man has fallen into sin, God demands full payment for all sins committed against Him. This means that God can never ignore the fact that we have committed sin. He can never let us get away with sin, as if sin—which is a crime against the infinite God—were nothing serious.
If God’s demands are to be met there are several possibilities. First, it might be possible that we pay what we owe to God, that we satisfy God for our own sins. But we have nothing with which to pay such a debt, and that debt increases every moment we fail to render obedience and with every transgression of God’s Law, not to mention that we are corrupt in our very nature! Second, it might be possible to find among men, angels or the animals a being which could pay for our sins. God’s Word tells us “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Animals are not a substitute for sinful men. Angels cannot bear the punishment we deserve either because it would be unjust for God to punish an angel for the sins committed by man. Another man cannot pay our debt and bear God’s punishment for our sins for two reasons. First, no man is powerful enough to endure the infinite weight of the wrath of God so that he could deliver himself—or others—from it. Second, all men are sinners, so that they could not even begin to satisfy for their own sins, never mind attempt to satisfy for our sins.
There is, therefore, only one other possibility. God satisfies His own justice in the human nature. That is exactly what God has done in Jesus Christ. God “sent His Son to assume that nature, in which the disobedience was committed, to make satisfaction in the same.”
That is why the Son of God became a man in the incarnation. He came to bear the punishment in our human nature which we deserve to suffer forever in hell. We could never bear that punishment. God would not leave our sin unpunished.
Salvation in a substitute! What admirable goodness and mercy!
Belgic Confession, Article 20; Day 3: The Father Sending the Son
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”
Sometimes it is said that the Son came to save us from the Father’s wrath, as if God was angry with us, and Jesus by His sacrifice persuaded God to love us. It is true that the Father was angry with us, justly wrathful because we have sinned against Him. But we must remember that the Triune God—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—is a God of mercy and justice. We cannot pit the one person—the Father—against the Son, any more than we can pit one attribute—mercy—against another attribute—wrath.
Jesus did not have to do something to persuade the Father to love us. Jesus did not by His satisfaction persuade God not to destroy us. The Father loved us eternally, and that is the reason for His sending the Son! Here is the relationship—the Father sent the Son in love, and the Son willingly came in love. That is the teaching of the Belgic Confession. “We believe that God … sent His Son …” “God was the one “giving His Son unto death for us.” The Word of God speaks of the gift of God in sending His Son, and in the love of Christ in coming. God’s love is the cause of the coming of the Son. The coming of the Son is not the cause of God’s love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son …” (John 3:16); “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10).
We must understand that the sending of Christ into the world was the promise, purpose and plan of God from the very beginning. The Belgic Confession has taught us that already: God promised to give His Son in eternity (Tit. 1:2-3); God revealed that promise to send His Son just after our first parents sinned (Gen. 3:15); God repeated that promise throughout history in various ways (through the shadows of the Old Testament Law and by clear prophecies), and in the fullness of time Jesus Christ came according to that promise. God promised His Son because this is the only way in which sinners can be saved. Only in this way can God’s admirable mercy be put on display, and God’s strict justice be satisfied.
We must also understand that the Son of God who was sent in the incarnation came most willingly. Although the Son knew, of course, how much it would cost Him to come—humiliation, shame, suffering and death—He came willingly because of His love for the Father. This, too, is clearly revealed in Scripture: “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire … Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is written within my heart” (Ps. 40:6-8; Heb. 9:5-10). Jesus said to His disciples, “… my meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34).
And the wonder is this: Jesus was willing to perform the will of the Father, knowing all along that the will of the Father was that He satisfy God’s justice with respect to the sins of all His people! Paul sums it up: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:7-8).
Belgic Confession, Article 20; Day 4: The Son Assuming the Nature in Which the Disobedience Was Committed
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Hebrews 2:14: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.”
We have seen thus far that our God is both perfectly merciful and perfectly just. We have seen that in His admirable mercy He sent His own, only begotten Son into the world. We have insisted that this was a free sending by the Father and a willing coming of the Son. Now we ask the question—why? What was exactly the purpose of the Son becoming a real human being, of the Son adopting or assuming our human nature of flesh, blood and soul? And why could the Son not have assumed the nature of the angels? Why did He have to assume our nature and none other? Articles 18-19 already began to answer these questions: “since the soul was lost as well as the body, it was necessary that He should take both upon Him, to save both” (Art. 18); “that He might die for us according to the infirmity of His flesh” (Art. 19). Therefore, we know from previous Articles of the Belgic Confession that the Incarnation was necessary for our salvation, that He should die. Article 20 elaborates: the Son assumed a human nature—as opposed to, let’s say, an angelic nature—because it was in the human nature that man’s disobedience was committed.
All of our sins are committed in the human nature. That should be obvious since we are only human nature. Unlike Christ we are not both human and divine; only human. Our sins are committed in our bodies and souls. Paul reminds the Roman Christians that they had employed the members of their bodies for sin: “ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity” (Rom. 6:19). Paul warns the Corinthians not to disobey God with their bodies: “… he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body” (I Cor. 6:18); “… glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (v. 20). The calling of Christians is to mortify (put to death) the sinful deeds of the flesh: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth …” (Col. 3:5). Even when our bodies are resting, our human souls (our mind, heart and will) are defiled by sin.
Jesus Christ assumed a human body of flesh and blood with all the human members which we have—hands, feet, etc.—with which we sin. In that human body and with that human body Jesus Christ avoided sin and followed after righteousness. Never did His hands perform a sinful deed. Never did His feet walk the path of righteousness. Moreover, Jesus Christ assumed a human soul of heart, mind and will. With that human soul Jesus Christ loved God with all of His being. Never did His human heart lust after sin. Never did He set His human will on evil. Never did one impure thought defile His human mind. What perfection there was in the Son of God!
But there is more to the Son’s assuming our human nature than His rendering in that human nature the perfect obedience we have failed—indeed refused—to give God. Jesus Christ assumed that human nature of body and soul that He might make satisfaction by suffering what we deserved to suffer.
Satisfaction through suffering. That is the salvation which Christ has wrought for us!
Belgic Confession, Article 20; Day 5: The Son Making Satisfaction in the Human Nature
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Isaiah 53:11: “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied
Last time we began to see that the Son of God assumed the human nature because that was the nature in which the disobedience of man was committed. We also saw that the Son came to make satisfaction in that nature. We looked yesterday at the “positive” aspect of that satisfaction, that in the human nature (of body and soul) the Son rendered to the Father the perfect obedience which we could not—and would not—render of ourselves.
But there is also the matter of our transgressions and sins against God’s Law. We have employed, as we saw from Romans 6, the members of our body (our hands, feet, etc.) to sin against God. Therefore, all the members of our body must suffer the punishment of God. We have sinned willfully, deliberately and even greedily with our souls (our mind, will, heart, emotions, etc). Therefore, we must experience in our souls the anguish of God’s wrath. That is the fearful punishment of hell—in the lake of fire the damned are punished body and soul for all the evil done in the body and soul in this life. That punishment is awful, but it is also just. No one suffers such eternal punishment who does not deserve it. We deserve it also, and we shall be punished, unless a way be found to satisfy God’s justice.
Suffering and punishment in body and in soul came upon Christ in His human nature as He dwelled upon the earth, and especially as He died upon the cross. That is why our Saviour had to have a human nature. The Son of God could not suffer in the divine nature. The Son of God as He dwells in heaven in the bosom of the Father knows no suffering. He cannot know suffering. The Son of God in heaven is adored by myriads of angels. He cannot know shame or sorrow of any kind. It was only in humbling Himself, in taking upon Himself the form of a servant, in being in the likeness of sinful flesh, that the Son of God could suffer. Christ suffered in His body of flesh and blood. Christ suffered those things which are common to man—hunger, thirst, fatigue, physical pain—but He knew them with great intensity than other men. This was especially true at the end of His life. In Christ’s final hours He suffered dreadful torments in His body. He flesh was torn to pieces with the Roman scourge; nails were pounded into His hands and feet; and He was hanged on a cross for six hours suffering excruciating pain. Add to that the awful sufferings of soul—sorrow, grief, anguish. Who can fathom the depth of the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ? “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death …,” He said (Matt. 26:38). Hebrews 5:7 says that Christ “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears …” and then He submitted His own human will (which shrank from suffering) to the divine will.
But we have not yet describe the worst sufferings of Christ. The agonies of body and soul of a victim of crucifixion were truly dreadful. But Christ, in addition to those sufferings and through those sufferings, bore the wrath of God in order to make full satisfaction for all our sins.
What incomparable suffering! What incomparable obedience! What incomparable mercy!
Belgic Confession, Article 20; Day 6: The Father Laying Our Iniquities Upon Him
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Isaiah 53:5: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities …
There is one subject about which we must be clear before we proceed—the justice in God’s punishing of His Son for our sins. How could the sinless, innocent Son of God be made to suffer? How is it right that the Son of God experience pain and anguish in body and soul? How is it possible that the Son of God should know the wrath of the Father? Could it be true that the Father was angry with His own So
The answer is given in the Belgic Confession: “God therefore manifested His justice against His Son when He laid our iniquities upon Him.” It was because God laid our iniquities upon Christ that He could be just in punishing Christ. To lay our iniquities upon Christ means to impute the guilt of our iniquities to Christ. Legally, the guilt of all our sins became Christ’s. Imputation is an extremely important word in theology. We believe in a threefold imputation. First, we believe—as we already saw in Article 15—that God imputed the guilt of Adam’s sin to the entire human race. Adam’s sin rendered us all guilty, because Adam represented us. Second, we believe—as we learn in Articles 20-21—that God imputed the guilt of all our sins to Jesus Christ. Our sins rendered Christ guilty—not personally guilty, but legally guilty—before God, and God treated Christ accordingly as a guilty man, guilty of all the sins of all those whom He represents. “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21). Third, we believe—as we learn in Articles 22-23—that God imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ to us by faith. Christ righteousness renders us, whom He represents and who believe in Him, righteous before God. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).
This explains how it was possible for Christ to suffer. He had the capacity to suffer because He has a human nature. He had the right to suffer—or God had the right to inflict suffering upon Him—because our sins were imputed to Him. Otherwise, to speak reverently, God had no legal right even to have Christ stub His toe; and it would be a moral outrage for Christ to experience the slightest pang of anguish. Anguish, pain and suffering are the experience only of sinners. Personally, Christ is the sinless Son of God, the righteous one. If He is not, He cannot be our Mediator and Saviour. But, legally—with respect to the Law, with respect to His position before God’s Law—Christ became guilty when the sins of all His people whom He represented were made His by imputatio.
And since Christ was loaded down with the guilt of our sins, He became the object of God’s just wrath. He lived under the shadow of that wrath His whole life and that wrath came upon Him—justly—when He died on the cros
But we must never forget that Christ willingly adopted that position of guilt before the Law for us. Christ made Himself of no reputation; Christ humbled Himself for our salvation.
Belgic Confession, Article 20; Day 7: God Pouring Forth His Mercy and Goodness On Us
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
II Corinthians 8:9: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich"
In our place Christ stood as guilty with the guilt of our sins. The sufferings which He bore were “the punishment of sin by His most bitter passion and death.” When Christ died on the cross God “manifested His justice against His Son.” The blessed result of this was that God “poured forth His mercy and goodness on us, who were guilty and worthy of damnation, out of mere and perfect love
It was always God’s purpose to pour out His mercy and goodness upon His people. In fact, God created our first parents in His mercy and goodness. We remember how Adam and Eve knew and loved God, and how they experienced His mercy and goodness. That mercy and goodness were not yet extended to sinners, of course; but God’s attitude towards our first parents before they sinned was mercy and goodness. He gave them to taste and know Him as God. But the fullness of the riches of God’s mercy and goodness was prepared in eternity only in Jesus Christ. What Adam and Eve knew in the Garden of Eden is not what we now have in Jesus Christ—we have a better, higher, richer experience and possession of mercy and goodness! We have, in short, “immortality and life eternal.” It took the deep way of sin and grace to bring us into the full experience of eternal lif
By our sins we have forfeited mercy and goodness. Because of our sins we have no right to life at all. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us …” (Eph. 2:4). By our sins we have earned the bitter wages of death, the curse and destruction. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23. “For to be carnally minded is death … if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die …” (Rom. 8:6, 13). We cannot even begin to satisfy God for our sins. We cannot pay for even the least of our transgressions. Even one of our iniquities is enough to plunge us into damnation forever. But Christ bore our punishment and earned for us eternal life
He did that by obeying where we could not—and would not—obey He did that by dying the death we could never die. He did that by removing from Himself—and therefore from us, whom He represented—the guilt of those sins imputed to Him and loaded upon Him. When He cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30), the debt was paid.
We know that the debt is paid and that eternal life has been procured for us because Christ rose again on the third day. Christ “was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). Christ was “raised again for [on account of] our justification” (Rom. 4:25). Look to the cross. See the Son of God suffering there for sinners and believe in Him. Look to the empty tomb. See that the Son is the victor over death, sin, hell and the devil. Death could not hold Him. Sin could not bind Him. The grave could not keep Him. He has paid it all. And God will demand nothing more from the one for whom Christ died, who trusts in Him for full and free salvation.
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 1: Christ the Only Everlasting High Priest
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Hebrews 3:1 “… consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus ...”
The holy God has ordained that He should be approached through a priest. The first man named a priest in Scripture is Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18). Often the heads of households functioned as priests (Job 1:5). Later God instituted an order of priests, the sons of Aaron of the tribe of Levi. Throughout Israel’s history, God’s people relied on priests to officiate in the tabernacle and the temple. The task of a priest was to act as a representative of the people to bring the people into fellowship with God (Heb. 5:1).
The work of a priest was threefold. First, on the altar of bunt offering the priest offered sacrifices to cover the sins of the people. Of course, the sins of the people were only covered ceremonially. However, the requirement of blood atonement reminded the people of the holiness of God and of the need for satisfaction for sin. Second, the priest took some of the burning coals from the altar of burnt offering and mixed them with a carefully prepared mixture of spices and then offered the mixture on the altar of incense. A cloud of sweet smelling smoke called incense would ascend to heaven. While he offered incense the priest interceded for the people. Thus incense was symbolic of intercessory prayer. Third, on the basis of the sacrifice offered and after the intercessory prayer, the priest would bless the people in the name of God.
God gave priests in the Old Testament to prepare His people for the coming of Christ who would, as the everlasting High Priest, perform a threefold work. Christ offered one final sacrifice on the cross; Christ intercedes for us in heaven at God’s Right Hand, and Christ blesses us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places. In Belgic Confession Article 21 the focus is on Christ’s priestly work of atonement. The title is “The Satisfaction of Christ, Our Only High Priest, for Us.” Article 26 will deal with Christ’s intercession which we shall study in future meditations.
One very important point, often missed today, is that Christ died for, intercedes for and blesses the very same people. There is an essential unity in Christ’s priestly work. Christ makes this clear in His well known “high priestly prayer” where He says, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine” (John 17:9). If Christ does not pray for every single human being, He did not die for every single human being, and therefore He neither procured nor bestows blessings upon every single human being. To teach that Christ only prays for some but that He died for all is to imagine an impossible division in Christ’s priestly work.
In the New Testament there is no longer an order of priests, but only one High Priest, Jesus Christ Himself. The priesthood of Jesus Christ is a major theme of the epistle to the Hebrews. In that epistle the inspired writer proves the superiority, uniqueness and permanence of Christ’s priesthood by comparing Christ to the Old Testament priests. Therefore the priests of the Roman Catholic Church and the priests of the Mormon cult must be rejected as imposters.
Do you know this one, only, everlasting High Priest? Trust no other priest but Him!
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 2: Christ’s Melchizedekian Priesthood
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Psalm 110:4: “The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek …”
In Scripture there are only two orders of the priesthood, the priesthood after the order of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi; and the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. Christ was not, and never could be, a priest after the former order, because He was not born of Levi’s tribe but of Judah’s (Heb. 7:13-14). Indeed, since in the Old Testament the priests were from Levi and the kings were from Judah it was not possible to be simultaneously king and priest. Yet God promised a Saviour who would be priest (Psalm 110:4), king (Gen. 49:10), as well as prophet (Deut. 18:18).
The writer to the Hebrews takes a relatively obscure prophecy in the Psalms and from it expounds the priesthood of Christ according to the order of Melchizedek. In so doing, he proves the superiority of Christ over the Old Testament priesthood. The reader should study carefully Hebrews 7.
There are many reasons for the superiority of the Melchizedekian priesthood of Christ over the Levitical or Aaronic priesthood. First, Melchizedek precedes Levi and Aaron in time. He appears in Genesis 14:18-20 after Abraham’s slaughter of the kings and successful recovery of the captives, including his nephew Lot. Second, Abraham recognizes Melchizedek’s superiority by giving him a tenth of the spoils of war, and in a way—this is the argument of the inspired writer to Hebrews—Levi (who was in Abraham’s loins) gave tithes to Melchizedek (Heb. 7:4-9). Third, since Melchizedek is—at least on the pages of Scripture, for he disappears as suddenly as he appeared—“without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually” (Heb. 7:3) he is a fitting picture of the real Melchizedek, of whom the historical Melchizedek was a picture. Thus the Levitical or Aaronic priesthood was temporary and imperfect; the Melchizedekian priesthood is eternal and perfect (Heb. 7:8, 24). Fourth, the Melchizedekian priesthood of Christ is significant because He is ordained with an oath to be an everlasting High Priest. In Scripture, God’s promise or oath is always superior to the Law. The fact that God swears an oath in Psalm 110 after He has ordained the Levitical or Aaronic priesthood shows that the law and its priesthood would pass away (Heb. 7:15-18, 28).
How blessed we are to have a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Unlike the Old Testament priests, Christ does not die but is made a priest “after the power of an endless life” (Heb. 7:16). Since Christ never dies, He is never replaced and His priesthood does not pass on to successors (Heb. 7:23-24). This is in accordance with God’s solemn oath: “The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4). God will not repent or change His mind. Christ will be a priest forever with a priesthood which shall have no end. Besides this, Christ, again unlike the Old Testament priests, is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and made higher than the heavens” (Heb. 7:26). Therefore, Christ can offer one sacrifice for sins forever, unlike former priests who had to offer ineffectual sacrifices repeatedly (Heb. 7:27; 9:25-26; 10:11-14).
One perfect High Priest; one perfect sacrifice; one perfected people!
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 3: Christ Presenting Himself Before the Father
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
John 10:18: “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of Myself …
Sometimes we think of Jesus as a victim upon whom God inflicted terrible sufferings. Some have scoffed at Christianity, calling it “slaughterhouse religion.” More recently, certain wicked men—even within Evangelical Christianity—have accused God of “cosmic child abuse.” But all such objections to the Gospel of the cross are based on a deliberate refusal to see that what Christ suffered was voluntary.
When we see the awful sufferings of Christ in Scripture let us never lose sight of that great truth. Christ was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, but only because He willingly consented to His arrest and gave Himself into the hands of His captors (John 18:4-9). Christ was beaten, spat upon and mocked, but remember His words in Isaiah 50:6: “I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” Christ was arraigned before the Jews and then Pontius Pilate, but only because He Himself permitted it. Christ was crucified and suffered the indignities and agonies of the cross, but only because He personally embraced those sufferings as part of the will of God. All of this He sums up in John 10:17-18: “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” Indeed, Christ did not actually die until the moment determined by Himself. He could not have died one second earlier or later than the one appointed by the Father and to which He willingly submitted.
The Belgic Confession explains this in these words: “He hath presented Himself in our behalf before the Father to appease His wrath by His full satisfaction.” The Son of God, as it were, appeared before the Father and declared, “Here I am, send me.” And we must be abundantly clear that the Son of God knew exactly the import of His words: “Send me, Father, and I will be born of a virgin, in humble and miserable circumstances. Send me, Father, and I will grow up in relative obscurity and poverty. Send me, Father, and I will preach thy Gospel, do good and keep thy Law, under which I will be born. Send me, Father, and I will be rejected by many, despised and abhorred by men, betrayed, denied and finally put to death. Send me, Father, and I will submit to the indignities of arrest, false imprisonment, a wicked, unjust, public flogging, rejection by the people in favour of a murderer, and finally the agony of crucifixion. Send me, Father, and I will bear in my own body the full weight of thy wrath against the sins of which my elect are guilty.” The book of Hebrews sums it up, quoting Psalm 40, “Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:7).
Something legal happened when Christ presented Himself before the Father. The guilt of all our sins was transferred to the account of God’s Son and He undertook to take full responsibility for what we had done and to do what we had left undone and had refused to do.
What amazing love is this! Praise Christ, our self-giving, self-sacrificing Saviour!
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 4: Feeling the Terrible Punishment Which Our Sins Had Merited
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Isaiah 53:10: “… it pleased the LORD to bruise Him …”
To understand the death of Christ we must see that Christ did not suffer merely at the hands of ungodly men. There is no doubt that Christ’s physical sufferings were excruciating, a word which comes from the Latin word crux for cross. Crucifixion was an extremely painful, humiliating and slow way to die. The Romans developed it as a form of execution to terrorize those whom they conquered. No Roman citizen could be crucified. Indeed, the words crucify or cross were not uttered in polite conversation. When the readers of the Gospel accounts read the words “they crucified Him” (Mark 15:25) they knew exactly what that meant.
But we would miss the Gospel of the cross if we did not see beyond the physical anguish of our Saviour caused by the contradiction of sinners (Heb. 12:3). There have been various theories about what Christ’s death on the cross means but many of them fall short. Some have seen Christ’s death as an inspiring example to moral courage, the death of a martyr for a good cause. The lesson they draw from Christ’s death is that we must be willing to suffer bravely for our principles. There is truth to that, of course (I Peter 2:21, 4:1, etc). But there is more to it than that. Others have seen Christ’s death as the way in which we receive inspiration to love God and our neighbour. The sufferings of Christ are supposed to melt our heart in love for Him. This is the moral influence theory. This like many errors has a grain of truth to it (II Cor. 5:14). Still others teach that by the cross Christ has conquered the devil and the power of sin, the so-called Christus Victor theory. While it is true that Christ has conquered the devil as promised (Gen. 3:15; Col. 2:15), there is more to the atonement than that. A fourth view is the governmental view. This is the view that Christ died on the cross as an example of the justice of God. The idea is that God punished Christ instead of punishing us to “make an example of Him.” This is what God will do to you if you do not repent! Because Christ has suffered instead of you, God can be just in forgiving you.
But do not be fooled by these false views of the atonement. None of them is the truth, although they all have an element of truth in them. The truth is penal substitutionary atonement. Penal means “pertaining to punishment.” A country might have a “penal code,” which is the punishments mandated by law for certain crimes. A prisoner might be sent to a “penal colony” or be incarcerated in a “penal institution.” Those are places of punishment. The Belgic Confession teaches us that Christ “[felt] the terrible punishment which our sins had merited.” The second word in “penal substitutionary” refers to the fact that Christ was the Substitute, that He stood in the place of sinners and endured the punishment which those sinners endure
The wonder of the sufferings of the cross is this: they were inflicted on Christ by the Father who punished His Son to the full extent of the Law in our place. The punishment He felt was not a general punishment but the punishment which our sins merited.
Thus the prophet can write: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities … the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5, 6). When we contemplate the sufferings of Christ we must not think abstractly. We must remember our own sins—our lies, our pride, our anger, our envy. Those were the sins which brought Him to Calvary.
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 5: Satisfaction; Atonement; Redemption; Reconciliation; and Propitiation
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Isaiah 53:11: “He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied …”
To understand what Christ accomplished by His sufferings and death we must examine the rich language of the Bible. All too often this is not done, which leads to confusion and error about the cross of our Saviour. The more we rightly understand what Christ has done for us, the more we are filled with gratitude.
Consider this illustration. A man and his wife are enjoying a pleasant stroll along the pier. Suddenly, the man says to his wife, “Darling, I want to show you have much I love you.” And he jumps into the sea and drowns. Would the wife view that as an act of love? Of course not: she would view that as a senseless waste of life. But if that same man jumped in front of a gunman to save his wife that would be an heroic act even if the man was killed in his act of courage. If the death of Christ was not necessary and if it did not accomplish anything then how can we glory in it? The Bible tells us that the death of Christ was both necessary and powerfully effective. It does that in the various words it uses to denote the sufferings of Christ.
First, the death of Christ was real satisfaction. To satisfy means to make a full payment of a debt so that the creditor receives the amount he is owed. We owe a debt to the justice of God which we cannot even begin to pay. Jesus satisfied God by paying on our behalf. “He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11). The Belgic Confession speaks of “appeasing God’s wrath by His full satisfaction.
Second, the death of Christ was atonement. To atone means to cover over by means of a sacrifice. Many times that word is used with respect to the sacrifices of the Old Testament, for example, “he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him” (Lev. 1:4). What the sacrificial lambs did typically, Christ did actually by shedding His blood on the cross
Third, the death of Christ was redemption. To redeem means to release from slavery by the payment of a price, a ransom. The only ransom costly enough to redeem lost sinners is the life of the Son of God. “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things … but with the precious blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:18-19)
Fourth, the death of Christ was reconciliation. To reconcile is to restore to fellowship parties at variance with one another by the removal of the cause of their estrangement. Quite simply, reconciliation is the restoration of a broken friendship. Christ reconciled us to God by removing our sin. “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10).
Fifth, the death of Christ was propitiation or an appeasing of the wrath of God by means of a sacrifice to cover over the sin. The anger of God was turned away from us by the sacrifice of Christ. “God … sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10).
Therefore we can say that the death of Christ is a satisfaction which really satisfied the justice of God; an atonement which really atoned and covered over our sins; a redemption which really delivered us from death, sin, hell and the devil; a reconciliation which really brings us into fellowship with God; and a propitiation which really turns away God’s wrath from us
That is the rich meaning of our Saviour’s death.
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 6: A Particular, Effectual Atonement
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life …”
Did Christ die for everybody; did Christ die for those who are never saved; or did Christ die only for God’s elect people? The answer to that question is determined by more than numbers—“all” versus “some” or “many”—but depends on what the death of Christ actually is.
In the providence of God, this has become a debate between Limited and Unlimited Atonement. But that terminology is unfortunate. It leads one to imagine that the Reformed, who believe in “Limited Atonement,” are limiting the atonement while the Arminians, who believe in “Unlimited or Universal Atonement,” are not limiting the atonement. The opposite is true.
Christ’s death is real satisfaction, atonement, redemption, reconciliation and propitiation. If that is true, the question about the extent of the atonement should be easy to answer. The Arminians claim that Christ redeemed all men without exception, that God was in the world reconciling it to Himself and that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (see I Tim. 2:6; II Cor. 5:19; I John 2:2). But do not let Arminianism fool you. If Christ redeemed all men without exception but all are not delivered from sin and the devil, then His redemption was worthless because it did not redeem! If God was reconciling the world to Himself—which according to II Cor. 5:19 means “not imputing their trespasses unto them”—but not all are brought into His fellowship but many perish as His enemies, then His reconciliation did not reconcile! And if Christ propitiated God with respect to the sins of the whole world but some still bear God’s wrath in eternal hell, then Christ’s propitiation did not propitiate! It is the Arminian who limits the atonement of Christ by robbing it of its efficacy and therefore of its meaning.
The answer of Arminianism is that Christ did these things for everyone but we must accept it to make it real for us. Thus we have the Christian cliché of “accepting Jesus as your own and personal Saviour.” However, the Bible does not speak in those terms. “We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10); “Christ hath redeemed us” (Gal 3:13). “Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His blood” (Rev. 1:5). The Bible is clear: Christ either redeemed His people effectually by His death, saving all those for whom He died, or Christ redeemed no one. There is no merely potential or possible atonement in Scripture.
The great objection of Arminianism is that the Bible says that Christ died for “all” or for the “world.” Arminians assume that these terms mean everybody, the entire human race without exception. But this is not true. In Scripture, the word “world” rarely means all without exception (John 7:4, 12:19, 15:18-19, 16:20). It is a word used to denote all nations. Similarly, the term “all men” means all in a specific group and rarely means everyone without exception (Mark 1:37, 11:32; John 11:48; Acts 2:45, 4:21, 19:19, 21:28). This is not unusual language even in English. Consider these examples: “The world was shocked by the earthquake.” “Does everyone have a copy of the book?” “There is a lunch for everybody on the table.” “I do not want anyone to be late.” “Everybody was at church.” Context determines meaning.
The beautiful truth of Scripture is this: Christ died for all His people; He redeemed His sheep; He purchased His bride; and He redeemed us from every nation. He did so effectually for all those for whom He died and He saves to the uttermost all those who believe in Him.
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 7: Christ’s Agony in Gethsemane
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Matthew 26:38: “… My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death …”
For every Christian the sufferings of Christ are fascinating. We love to hear how our Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins. We love to ponder all the details and to marvel at His wondrous love. Although Christ suffered His whole life, we might say that His sufferings begin to peak as He reaches the point of Gethsemane.
Gethsemane means oil press. It was an enclosed garden on the Mount of Olives. Jesus and His disciples knew the place. How fitting, as the Son of God was about to be pressed with the dreadful, crushing burden of God’s wrath, that He would come to Gethsemane—the oil press! Christ came to that location for two main reasons. First, it was a place of refuge, a place of seclusion and He needed time to be alone with His Father in prayer. Second, Christ knew that the place was familiar to Judas Iscariot, His betrayer (John 18:2). Christ made no attempt to hide from Judas or to evade arrest. He was waiting for Judas when the betrayer arrived with his mob of soldiers. “Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold he is at hand that doth betray me” (Matt. 26:45-46).
When Christ entered Gethsemane for the last time a change came over Him. Christ, the beloved Son, who was always so calm and reposed, began to tremble with fear. A great and holy dread came upon Him, which we must try to understand. The Gospel writers describe Christ in very moving words: “[He] began to be sorrowful and very heavy;” “[He] began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy;” He was “in an agony” (Matt. 26:37; Mark 14:33; Luke 22:44). Christ Himself describes how He is feeling to His disciples: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death …” (Matt. 26:38). Luke tells us that “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). In Hebrews we read, “Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death and was heard in that He feared” (Heb. 5:7).
Was Christ, who before this had so often spoken in solemn terms about His upcoming death in Jerusalem, now suddenly afraid to die? Had His courage left Him? Was He less courageous—I speak as a fool—than others who had suffered the horrible death of crucifixion? Not at all! Christ was afraid of something worse—infinitely worse—than physical death. Christ feared the cup. That was the focus of His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. “O Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt … O my Father, if this cup may not pass from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matt 26:39, 42). In Gethsemane, Christ was wrestling with the horror of drinking the cup. He knew what was in the cup and He shrank back in dread from the contents of the cup. In Scripture, a cup is an appointed portion of something, either of blessing or of wrath. “In the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and He poureth out of the same; but the dregs thereof, all of the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them” (Ps. 75:8).
Now that cup was handed to Christ. In Gethsemane Christ took it and began His last steps to the cross where He would drink every last drop of it.
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 8: Christ Condemned Though Declared Innocent
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
John 19:6: “… Take ye Him, and crucify Him: for I find no fault in Him…”
After His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane Christ suffered the indignity of a trial. His trial took place in several stages. First, He was questioned by Annas, the father in law of Caiaphas, the high priest (John 18:13). Then He was arraigned before the entire Sanhedrin in Caiaphas’ house in the middle of the night. Multiple laws of Jewish jurisprudence were transgressed that night because Christ’s enemies were desperate to convict Christ and kill Him. After trying threats and intimidation and using the testimony of false witnesses Caiaphas demanded that Christ answer a question under oath: “I adjure Thee by the living God, that Thou tell us whether Thou be the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63). Christ responded truthfully that He was. The Sanhedrin, having rejected Christ as the Son of God for some time, now officially pronounced Jesus guilty of blasphemy: “Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? Behold, now ye have heard His blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death” (Matt. 26:65-66). Then Jesus’ enemies unleashed their fury upon Him: “they did spit in His face and buffeted Him” (v. 67). All this Jesus bore patiently, not speaking a word!
Condemned by the religious leaders, Jesus was taken to Pilate to be tried before the civil powers. At this time only the Romans had the authority to put a person to death. The Sanhedrin needed some excuse to have Pilate, the Roman governor, execute Jesus. Pilate was not convinced. Having examined Jesus, Pilate declared repeatedly that He was innocent: “I find in Him no fault at all” (John 18:38); “I bring Him forth to you that ye may know that I find no fault in Him” (John 19:4); “Take ye Him, and crucify Him: for I find no fault in Him” (John 19:6). Pilate even tries to absolve himself of the guilt of unlawfully sentencing Jesus to death by washing his hands symbolically before the people. “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it” (Matt. 27:24). Others testified to the innocence of Jesus: Pilate’s wife (Matt. 27:19); Judas Iscariot (Matt. 27:4); one of the thieves who was crucified alongside Jesus (Luke 23:41) and the centurion whose soldiers crucified Jesus (Luke 23:47).
The Belgic Confession takes note of this: “[He was] condemned by Pontius Pilate as a malefactor, though He had first declared Him innocent.” But why was such a trial necessary? First, God would have the innocence of His Son thoroughly examined and publicly testified. No one was able to find the least fault in Jesus. This was necessary because He was our Substitute who must be “a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1:19). Second, God would confront the powers of that day, both the religious and civil powers, as well as the common people, with the question: “What will ye do with Jesus which is called Christ?” No one can escape that question, although Pilate desperately tried to do so. And third, and most significant, God Himself condemned Jesus, using sinful men as His instruments. When Jesus heard those words, “He is worthy of death” and “Take ye Him and crucify Him,” Jesus heard in His own consciousness the terrible sentence of death coming from God Himself.
As Jesus stood before God He was bearing the sins of all His people whom He represented. Therefore the only fitting verdict was guilty. Guilty of all the sins of Thy people! Guilty of our sins!
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 9: Christ Wounded and Bruised
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Isaiah 53:6: “But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities...
From Pilate’s judgment hall Christ made His way to the place of execution on the hill of Calvary. Before crucifixion the condemned man was scourged. Sometimes, a Roman scourging was so severe that the victim died. A cruel whip lacerated Jesus’ back, and the soldiers added to Christ’s suffering and indignity by mocking His kingship with a crown a thorns, bowing in contempt before Him, beating Him and spitting in His face! Then upon His bleeding back they laid a heavy piece of wood. Our Saviour had to carry the instrument on which He Himself would be crucified. When He could carry the burden no longer, they forced a man, Simon of Cyrene, to carry it for Him. When they reached the hill the soldiers began their grisly work, pounding nails into His hands and feet and hoisting Him up on the cross. And there He hung for six dreadful hours, in excruciating agony, from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon while His enemies looked on until darkness descended upon the scene.
Isaiah the prophet, writing centuries before the events took place, describes the sufferings of our Saviour in vivid language. First, there are words which speak of severe injury. Stricken! Smitten! Oppressed! Afflicted! Bruised! Wounded! The servant of Jehovah received one dreadful blow after another, each one more crushing than the former. The imagery in Isaiah 52-53 is of one beaten so severely that men can barely recognize Him; of one whose sufferings are so awful that men will turn away their faces in horror at the sight (Isa. 52:14, 53:3). Second, there are words which speak of an intolerably heavy burden, a burden designed to crush a man under its weight. The suffering of Jesus was suffering which almost overwhelmed and engulfed the Servant of Jehovah, the Messiah. “Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows …” (Isa. 53:4). “The LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (v. 6). Never in the history of the world did any carry a load as heavy as this man. Third, there are words which describe the effect of this suffering upon the Saviour. We saw already how the anticipation of this suffering affected Jesus in Gethsemane. Now, on the cross, He feels acutely every blow, every wound, every laceration of His flesh, the agonizing thirst, the oppressive heat and the torment which pierces His very heart and soul with sorrow. He is afflicted, a word which means bowed down, humbled, made low (v. 7). Verse 11 speaks of the travail of His soul. To suffer there was grievous toil, hard labor which exhausted Him physically and emotionally as His soul was poured out unto death.
But the physical torment was only the beginning of Christ’s suffering. If mere men had stretched forth their hands against Him He would not have felt such anguish. The horror of Calvary for the Son of God was this: God bruised Him; God crushed Him; God punished Him for our sins. “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him …” (v. 10). When Christ looked beyond the Jews and the Romans He saw the hand of His Father. That hand was not gentle; that had did not spare Him; that hand dealt Him crushing blow after crushing blow
And yet the Saviour did not complain, but submitted Himself to the righteous judgment of the Father. He knew that God was just and holy, and He loved the one who bruised Him.
Isaiah says that it was the “chastisement of our peace” (v. 5). We deserved that punishment and that punishment brought us peace, peace with God and eternal life.
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 10: Forsaken for the Remission of Our Sin
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Matthew 27:46: “…My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
From the depths of Christ’s agonies came the cry of abandonment: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” These words spoken by Christ from the cross are among the most profound, mysterious and sacred in Scripture. The Son forsaken by the Father! What could this mean? How could this be possible? What is its significance?
We must remember the events of the cross. For three hours, Jesus had hung on the cross as a spectacle before men; and men had been active in mocking Him. It was not enough for His enemies that they had brought Him to the cross they but they gathered like bloodthirsty wolves to growl at Him. “He saved others. Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him come down from the cross and we will believe Him” (Matt. 27:42). Even the two thieves—one of whom would later repent and be forgiven by Jesus (Luke 23:43)—mocked Him (Matt. 27:44). But the blasphemous chatter at the cross ended when God plunged the earth into darkness for three hours (Matt. 27:45). This was a miraculous darkness which lasted from high noon until three o’clock, when the sun was normally at its hottest. During those three hours of darkness God was judging sin and the Sinbearer, Jesus Christ. Judgment came to Calvary that day in the form of thick, impenetrable, oppressive darkness. That darkness was upon Jesus Christ because He was the object of the righteous and holy judgment of God against all the sins of God’s people. Only after Jesus had purged our sins and exhausted the wrath of God against our sins, did the light return!
It was as Jesus plumbed the depths of that darkness—the outer darkness of hell itself—and just before He emerged from it, that He cried with a loud voice the words of abandonment. At this point Christ was being crushed by the heavy hand of God; the billows of God’s wrath like a raging ocean of fire were flooding and overwhelming Him; Jesus was tasting, drinking and emptying the bitter cup which God had given Him. At that point, inexpressive horror gripped Christ’s soul. God had forsaken Him. In that horror Christ called out in agony, seeking for fellowship with His God: “My God, my God …” But there was no fellowship possible. God did not answer His Son with His favour. Our Mediator, who had always known and enjoyed communion with His Father, who was the object of the Father’s delight, who dwelled eternally in the Father’s bosom, was now without the presence of God’s love.
This does not mean that there was suddenly a schism in the being of the Trinity. This does not mean either that the Father now hated His Son. The Father loved the Son even when He did not spare Him. The Son loved the Father even as the Father inflicted suffering upon Him. It means that the Son of God experienced in His human nature of body and soul that God was not Hs benevolent Father but the avenging and righteous Judge. It means that in His capacity as Judge God showed no mercy to His Son but punished Him to the fullest extent, pouring out the full fury of His wrath.
That, the presence of God in wrath, but the absence of God’s favour, was intolerable for the holy Son of God. But that was necessary for our salvation. Christ experienced hell that day so that we would never experience hell, we who believe in Him.
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 11: Appeasing the Father’s Wrath
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
I John 4:10: “…He loved us and His Son to be the propitiation for our sins ...”
Have you ever tried to propitiate someone? The word means to appease or to placate by offering a gift. The effect of propitiation is that the anger of an offended person is turned away. Jacob found himself in that position when he returned from Haran. He knew that his brother Esau was angry with him but he hoped to propitiate him. “I will appease him with the present that goeth before me …” (Gen. 32:20).
Christ is our propitiation (I John 2:2, 4:10). This means that Christ has turned away the wrath of God which justly rested upon us. We were “children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:3). God was angry with us, and we were worthy of that anger. Christ removed that wrath from us by taking that wrath—and the guilt which was the ground for that wrath—upon Himself. Thus, especially on the cross, Christ became the object of God’s just and righteous wrath. Daily, as He was loaded down with our guilt, He felt that wrath burning against Him. That sense of God’s wrath reached its lowest and most bitter point when Christ from the depth of His anguished soul cried out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46). When Jesus died, the wrath was removed. Now there is no wrath for any sinner for whom Christ died.
On the cross, then, God was angry with Jesus Christ. This does not mean that God hated His Son, or that God was personally angry with Him. The Son always pleased His Father, even when He was actively laying down His life on the cross. God was judicially angry with Jesus Christ, that is, God was angry with His Son in His capacity as the Judge. Jesus was justly the object of God’s wrath because Jesus was legally—but not personally—guilty of all the sins of the elect whom He represented. Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:21, “For He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” The Son of God was made to be sin! This does not mean that Jesus Christ became sinful. It means that He became legally guilty and therefore liable to be punished with God’s wrath
We must understand God’s wrath as righteous wrath. God is not a vengeful God who enjoys inflicting pain upon His creatures. Rather God inflicts suffering on sinners according to strict justice. When God inflicted suffering on Jesus, which He felt as terrible punishment in body and soul, He was inflicting only what the Law required. Perhaps a person might object: why cannot God simply forgive without requiring that someone be punished in our place? The answer is that God’s justice demands it. Perhaps an illustration might help. If you break your neighbor’s window, he might choose to forgive you and not ask you to pay for the broken window. But does that mean that no payment will be made? Actually, your neighbor, by forgiving you, will pay to repair the window from his own money or his insurance company will pay. But there must be a payment made by someone! When God’s Law is transgressed that is an affront to God’s holiness. If God chooses not to punish us for our sins, someone will have to pay. And, in grace, God paid for our sins Himself in the Person of His own Son.
The result of Christ’s death as propitiation is that the wrath of God is turned away from us. Because “Christ hath presented Himself in our behalf before the Father to appease His wrath by His full satisfaction” we have no need to fear when we stand before Him.
Christ has died, and God is satisfied forever!
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 12: Offering Himself on the Tree of the Cross
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
I Peter 2:24: “Who His own self bare our sins in His body on the tree ...”
Does it matter how Jesus Christ died? Could He have atoned for our sins by being stoned to death by a Jewish mob? Could His death have come about by drowning? Could He have died of natural causes at a ripe old age? The manner of Christ’s death does matter: He had to be crucified.
The cross was the means by which Christ offered Himself as a living sacrifice to God for the sins of His people. In the Old Testament all the animal sacrifices were unwilling. They were slaughtered, their blood was sprinkled and their bodies were burned on the altar. The altar which Jesus chose for the place of His sacrifice was the cross. The Belgic Confession describes it in these words: “He hath presented Himself … to appease [God’s] wrath … by offering Himself on the tree of the cross and pouring out His precious blood to purge away our sins.”
There are many reasons why death by crucifixion was necessary for the Son of God. But the main reason is the most humbling. He must be crucified because we have sinned. Sometimes we tend to think that our sins are very minor. Often we try to excuse our sins. Sometimes, and more often than we care to admit, we love our sins and do not want to turn from them. We are so perverse by nature that we enjoy sin, although we know that it will bring shame, misery and ultimately death. When we are tempted to love our sins, we must look at the cross. Our sins are so vile in the sight of the holy God that only the death of the Son of God could atone for them.
But there are other reasons why crucifixion was the kind of death Jesus died. First, the cross acted as an altar on which the Lamb of God could offer Himself. Consider some of the similarities between this sacrifice and the Old Testament sacrifices. The cross was a bloody, violent, traumatic death. In this way, Jesus shed His blood. On the cross Jesus was “burned” or consumed by the wrath of God in a way reminiscent of the burning of the flesh of animals on the altar.
Moreover, death by crucifixion was slow, deliberately so. Had Jesus been stabbed quickly with a dagger or received a quick blow to the head, He would not have been able actively to take to Himself the death which we deserved to bear. And let us never forget that Christ gave Himself over into the power of death. We do not find Him cowering among the trees when met came to arrest Him. He gives Himself into their hands (John 18:4). We do not find Him loudly protesting His innocence and seeking to escape from the men who tried Him. “As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth” (Isa. 53:7).When He was offered a sedative to dull His senses, He refused to drink it (Matt. 27:43). He was determined to be fully alert when He offered Himself on the cross.
In a very real sense, therefore, we must view the cross as an altar. On that altar the sacrifice to end all sacrifices was offered. A lamb was slain there, the Lamb of God. Blood was sprinkled there, the blood of our Saviour. Redemption was secured there, the redemption of our souls and bodies from eternal damnation.
Let us flee from all other altars to the cross of Christ where the only perfect sacrifice was made.
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 13: Redeeming Us From God’s Curse
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Galatians 3:13: “…For it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.”
Paul says about the Gospel of Christ crucified that it was a stumbling block to the Jews. It was offensive to them that the Christians should believe and preach a crucified Messiah. The reason for this offence was that the law of Moses taught that a crucified person was cursed by God. “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance” (Deut. 21:22-23). In the Old Testament the Jews stoned a man to death and then the corpse was hanged on a tree to expose it to open shame. Thus the corpse decomposed in the hot sun and was eaten by vultures. The idea was that such a person had no place in the land of the living and was utterly rejected by God. He was under God’s curse! Crucifixion was worse than that because a person was hanged on a tree, a piece of wood, while was still alive. Thus a man who was crucified bore God’s curse while He still lived.
For the Jews those two concepts—God’s curse and the Messiah of God—did not fit together. The idea that God could curse His own Son was blasphemy. Therefore, that Jesus Christ was crucified and thus cursed, proved to the Jews that He could not be the Messiah.
But Paul explains how these two concepts fit together. The Son of God was made a curse for others. We who deserved by our sins to be under God’s curse receive God’s blessing because Christ bore the curse which we deserved. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us …” (Gal. 3:13). God’s curse is the word of His destructive wrath. To curse means to speak evil of, evil upon or against someone. God does not “say bad words,” as we forbid our children from doing. God’s curse is the righteous, holy word of His wrath which pronounces misery upon His enemies, devoting them to destruction and banishing them from Him so that they are eternally miserable. That curse must come upon all lawbreakers for, as Paul explains, “as many as are of the works of law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10).
That curse came in all its horror upon Jesus Christ. As one under God’s curse He must be deprived of the favour of God. That happened on the cross. As one under God’s curse He must be enveloped in darkness and taste the full misery of banishment from God. That, too, happened on the cross. Although God loved His Son, when Christ became the Sinbearer, He became the object of God’s just and holy wrath, the word of God’s wrath was directed against Him, and thus made Christ unspeakably miserable.
Behold Christ on the cross! He is there as a public spectacle of accursedness so that we might know that we have been redeemed from that curse which He bore on our behalf. The Jews stumbled at it and the Gentiles scoffed at it, but we glory in it. God therefore will not and cannot curse one who is in Christ because to be in Christ is to blessed. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law … that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:13-14).
Christ was cursed so that we who believe in Him are blessed
Do you know the blessing of God? Believe in the crucified Saviour!
Belgic Confession, Article 21; Day 14: Finding Consolation in His Wounds
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Galatians 6:14: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”
Christianity appears to be foolish to the world. We glory in the cross! Why would people glory—boast or rejoice—in the cross which was a instrument of cruel torture and agonizingly painful death? But we do not glory in the cross as a piece of wood. We rejoice in the cross because of what it has accomplished for us and because what it means to us.
The death of Christ on the cross was the greatest evil ever perpetrated by man. Peter confronts the inhabitants of Jerusalem with that sin: “Ye have taken [Him] and with wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). That same accusation comes to us—our sins have crucified the Lord of glory. Our transgressions nailed the Son of God to the accursed tree. Our iniquities brought down upon the perfect Lamb of God the bruising, crushing, killing wrath of God. He felt the terrible punishment which our sins have merited. We were the unjust for whom He the Just One died. He poured out His precious blood to purge away our sins.
Jesus did not die so that we might feel sorry for Him. As He made His way to the cross He rebuked those who bewailed Him: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves …” (Luke 23:28). Jesus does not need our pity. Jesus demands our repentance.
The reason we rejoice in the cross of Christ is because His death is the only and effectual atonement for our sins. Had Christ simply died as an example, we could not glory in His cross, because we would still be in our sins. Had Christ died merely to show us how righteous God is or how loving God is—but without making satisfaction for our sins—we would have no reason to glory in His cross because it would not be the reason for our salvation. If Christ had died to make it possible for us to save ourselves, we could not glory in the cross, but would glory in ourselves.
The Belgic Confession glories in the cross of Christ, “in whose wounds we find all manner of consolation.” We find consolation or comfort in the wounds of our Saviour because He was wounded, bruised and crushed for us—in our place! If He had not died, we would perish. When we consider what Christ suffered, we rejoice because His death means that we do not suffer for our sins. Instead, death is a passageway for us into eternal life. When we remember that He was made a curse for us, we know that this means that we will never suffer God’s curse. When we understand that He bore the wrath of God for us, we know that this means that we will never bear the wrath of God ourselves. What a difference that little word “for” makes!
Since Christ has paid it all, we need not—and indeed we cannot—pay anything ourselves. What a burden this truth lifts from our conscience. There is no need for us to pay penance, to punish ourselves for our own sins. There is no horrible prospect of purgatory after death where we would have to suffer for our own sins. “Neither is it necessary to seek or invent any other means of being reconciled to God, than this only sacrifice, once offered, by which believers are made perfect forever” is the joyful conclusion of the Belgic Confession.
Let us derive comfort from Christ’s wounds. We who are covered by His blood can never perish. All the blessings of salvation are ours—freely, because Christ has paid for them!