October 8, 2020

The Rock-Solid Hope of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (Part 3)

This is the third and final part of a series on Genesis 22. You can read part one here and part two here.

5. Don’t make this text about us.

The point is this: We are not Isaac in this story. We are not even Abraham. This is ultimately a story about God the Father and God the Son, with a few important differences.

Jesus did not need convincing to go to the cross. The Father didn’t need to talk Him into it. He didn’t need to order Him to go. The crucifixion was not something dreamed up by Jesus and the Holy Spirit to keep an angry Father happy. That’s what my sister and I did when we were younger. One of us or other would do something silly to take the heat off the one being abused. We’d sacrifice ourself for the other. This is not the application of this story, and it’s definitely not the application of the cross.

6. Don’t underplay the fact that Jesus calls us to a radical obedience.

How far is our faith willing to extend? We think this is a tough text, but Jesus has a NT equivalent for us in Matthew 10:34–39.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

What does that do to our theology of family and their place in our lives next to God? You love Jesus, do you? You worship God, do you? Just how much? If God took away your job tomorrow and said, “Trust me”, would you? If He took away your house? If He took away your family? Your partner? Your child? Would you still trust Him 100%? Clinging to the promises of His Word?

If more people took Matthew seriously, there would be less abuse in our churches, not more. By putting Jesus first, we will be better fathers and mothers. When I am not putting Jesus first in my life, I have less patience, am angrier, snappier, and end up being a worse husband, father, and friend.

There are two dangers for those of us who have been abused. That we in turn abuse or that we over-correct and spoil our children. That we make idols out of them.

7. Don’t miss the gospel and the doctrine of PSA.

It’s worth pointing out that Isaac, at this point in world history, is the hope of the world. Why would God want Abraham to sacrifice the hope of the world? What could that possibly achieve? It doesn’t make sense. But, when we look at Jesus, it makes perfect sense. The real hope of the world. The only hope of the world. Killed. When He died on that cross and was stuck in that tomb, the hope of all His disciples died with Him.

How could Jesus be God’s man and be brutally savaged like that? How could it be? But it was. It was God’s plan all along. Three painfully silent days. The biggest suffering on the cross was not at the hands of men, but at the hand of God during those three hours when darkness shrouded the cross and the Father poured out His wrath on His son. This is not cosmic could abuse. This is love. God’s love. Trinitarian love.

People struggle with the justice of God and the cross. As parents we love our children, right? Do we ever punish our children? Yes, of course we do. For their own good, we discipline them. How, then, can we mistake justice and punishment with being inconsistent with love? God punishes in the Bible from the moment He kicks Adam and Eve out of Eden until the moment He comes again to separate the sheep and the goats. But, nothing of what He does is inconsistent with His loving nature. The cross and PSA only looks like abuse if we separate it from the triune God.

You know, when I was a boy, my sister and I worked out when our step-mother was drunk and on the warpath. One of us knew we were in for it. And so, often, we would take it in turns. One would take the beating for the other. We would plan a distraction or do something naughty just to catch her attention away from one of us. And so it often worked out that she took out all her rage on whichever one’s turn it was.

Many people have this same idea of Jesus on the cross. That Jesus and the Holy Spirit got together behind the couch to work out who would take the lickings form the angry father. If that’s how you understand PSA, then no wonder it looks like cold-hearted abuse.

But, our Trinitarian theology guards against this because of the complete equality and unity of the Godhead. No one member dominates or controls the others. The actions of each member are inseparably connected to the others. The Son is not the subject or object of His father’s terrible temper. Father, Son, and Spirit share a divine nature and therefore will.

Hope for Abuse Victims

So, the Son dies on the cross, not out of fear or threats from the Father, but because that is how the Trinity—in an act of divine wisdom—chose to both uphold divine justice and forgive our sins. All of the Trinity is involved in this great and terrible gift of grace.

That’s why those of us who have suffered abuse, in all its forms, need the story of Genesis 22. It’s why we need the cross. We need to know that God is good and undeniably for us. Penal substitution assures us He is both.

As a survivor of childhood abuse, I have to be wary of how it has affected my entire life, particularly my thought life. I view new people with suspicion. I view power plays with suspicion. I detest bullying. I worry about manipulators. I lack basic trust. I think of people as guilty until they prove otherwise. I view every stranger as potential abuser. And it’s not good. Some of it is healthy. Some of it is not.

That’s why the cross grounds me. That’s why Genesis 22 gives me hope. That’s why PSA fills my pain with joy, hope, and some sort of meaning. The cross shows me that the trinitarian God that I worship stands in direct opposition to the traits of our abusers.

God does not wield His power to harm others. Jesus gives it up to become man. Jesus does not use His lofty position of power and prestige to dominate us. Instead, He becomes weak, poor, and lowly. God does not sit far off, distant from our pain. Instead, in Jesus, He came near and experienced all of the world’s brokenness, yet without sin. He accomplished for us on the cross what we cannot accomplish for ourselves.

At the cross, God acts for the weak, the oppressed, and the abused. To overcome evil. To uphold justice. To free the enslaved. God Himself perfectly identifies with all the victims of vile manipulation and power plays. The cross is the greatest demonstration of that we have ever seen or ever will see.

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