Is there any way to escape punishment and be brought back into God’s favor?
Yes, to satisfy his justice, God himself, out of mere mercy, reconciles us to himself and delivers us from sin and from the punishment for sin, by a Redeemer.
Proof Text: Isaiah 53:10–11
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
O Reconciling One, thank you for making a way for us. You have been perfect, both in justice and in mercy. We accept the salvation we do not deserve. We come before you in the name of Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, trusting in his merits rather than our own. Amen.
The movie theater experience just isn’t the same without the lights off. I learned this firsthand when, after the first thirty seconds of Star Wars: The Force Awakens accidently played in a lit theater, three irritated guys stormed out and demanded that the staff turn the lights down. A dark backdrop contrasted against a light image adds volume and drama to the total experience.
We might say that the catechism is set up that way as well. God’s just and righteous judgment against our sin provides the dark backdrop against which the glory of the gospel shines through. After we’ve understood the depth of our calamity, we can better appreciate the true magnitude of God’s rescue plan for us.
The catechism tells us that God freely and mercifully satisfied the demands of his own justice on our behalf. According to Isaiah 53, God made the righteous life of his servant (Jesus Christ) to be a substitutionary offering for the unrighteous. In obedience to God’s will, Jesus Christ lived the life we should have lived and so fulfilled the just requirements of God’s law on our behalf. Yet he also died the death we should have died. Isaiah’s graphic language of the servant being “crushed” and “put to grief” (Isa. 53:10) reminds us of the heavy price of our sin. At the cross, Jesus bore the full weight of God’s curse against sin and so fully satisfied the demands of God’s just condemnation against sin. So we have a righteous life that satisfies the justice of God for us and an atoning death that satisfies the justice of God for us. This great exchange is the heart of the gospel itself.
Perhaps the most startling aspect of Isaiah’s language is that it “pleased” the Lord to make this exchange. Somehow, it actually pleased the Lord to hand his innocent Son over to be mocked, brutalized, and crucified. That’s a nearly impossible truth to fathom until you realize why God was pleased by this. Certainly, God was not pleased by the sin of Judas who betrayed Jesus, the religious leaders who hated him, Pilate who unjustly sentenced him, or the misguided crowd who rejected him. But God was pleased by the active and passive (through suffering) obedience of his Son, who continued to trust God and love his people no matter the cost. God was pleased to lay his judgment upon the Son in order to save his sinful people. God was pleased because, through the cross, the Son of God would be glorified, the people of God would be saved, the justice of God would be satisfied, and the love of God would be revealed. The cross was not a tragic accident. It was God’s will, his plan to save his people through the work of the Redeemer and to reveal the immeasurable riches of his glorious grace.
Finally, God freely and mercifully made this exchange. The catechism is careful to point out that the cause of God punishing Jesus in order to rescue us was “mere mercy.” The language “mere mercy” means grace alone, grace apart from any other considerations. As the great preacher C. H. Spurgeon famously wrote, salvation is “all of grace.” Although this grace trains us to avoid ungodliness, it does not depend upon our obedience in any way. As we consider the besetting sins and ongoing weaknesses of our lives, we have to cling to the “mere grace” aspect of the gospel. God did not give his beloved Son in view of what he would get out of our lives, but merely because he loves us. Now that’s good news indeed!
Historical Commentary by
Who is Jonathan Edwards?
But is there anything which Christians can find in heaven or earth, so worthy to be the objects of their admiration and love, their earnest and longing desires, their hope and their rejoicing, and their fervent zeal, as those things that are held forth to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ? In which not only are things declared most worthy to affect us, but they are exhibited in the most affecting manner. The glory and beauty of the blessed Jehovah, which is most worthy in itself to be the object of our admiration and love, is there exhibited in the most affecting manner that can be conceived of, as it appears, shining in all its lustre, in the face of an incarnate, infinitely loving, meek, compassionate, dying Redeemer. All the virtues of the Lamb of God, his humility, patience, meekness, submission, obedience, love and compassion, are exhibited to our view in a manner the most tending to move our affections of any that can be imagined; as they all had their greatest trial, and their highest exercise, and so their brightest manifestation, when he was in the most affecting circumstances; even when he was under his last sufferings, those unutterable and unparalleled sufferings he endured from his tender love and pity to us. There also, the hateful nature of our sins is manifested in the most affecting manner possible; as we see the dreadful effects of them in what our Redeemer, who undertook to answer for us, suffered for them. And there we have the most affecting manifestation of God’s hatred of sin, and his wrath and justice in punishing it; as we see his justice in the strictness and inflexibleness of it, and his wrath in its terribleness, in so dreadfully punishing our sins, in one, who was infinitely dear to him and loving to us. So has God disposed things in the affair of our redemption, and in his glorious dispensations, revealed to us in the gospel, as though every thing were purposely contrived in such a manner as to have the greatest possible tendency to reach our hearts in the most tender part, and move our affections most sensibly and strongly. How great cause have we therefore to be humbled to the dust that we are no more affected!