Why the atonement matters for church planters (7)

Why the atonement matters for church planters (7)

tonement’ edited by Gabriel Fluhrer (P&R Publishing 2010)

This is a series of lectures about ‘blood’ according to the book’s sleeve and is a compilation of 8 essays on the topic by 7 evangelical theologians and pastors. Such is the importance of this subject for every Christian, whoever they are and whatever they do, I have decided to give a brief summary over the coming weeks of some of the essays and how I think it could apply to inner city planters (although the application is really universal). This week we have Sinclair Ferguson.

Sinclair Ferguson – Christ, the Sin-Bearer

Isaiah 53:3-4 is the key passage in this essay. His point is that the atonement is not just a theory to debate but a reality that Christ experienced as underlined by 1 Peter 2:24-25. Christ’s deepest sufferings were spiritual. The reconciliation he achieved on behalf of sinners has come about not just because he suffered physically, but because of his spiritual alienation from God. That was the real reason his soul was so heavy as he was in Gethsemane (Mark 14:34). He knew the full cost of what awaited him.

He uses the term penal to describe the suffering of Jesus. Three words sum this up. They are:

(1) Expiation – The penalty is paid to take our guilt before God

(2) Substitution – He was pierced for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities

(3) Propitiation – He drank the cup of God’s wrath (Mark 14:35-36).

These are biblical terms which we must never shy away from. Jesus paid a heavy price and we have a responsibility to ensure that we grasp the weight of His sacrifice and that we preach the fullness of it to those who are perishing. He has gained full pardon for His sheep and that should bring us immense pastoral comfort. The unbeliever, however, will not escape the full wrath. If His beloved Son had to pay then we must never think there is a plan B for the lost. They will surely face the judgement of Almighty God (Hebrews 9:27). Someone once asked me if preaching doctrine was ‘too heavy’ for people in Niddrie. My response was, ‘not as heavy as God’s eternal wrath will be if I am not clear on the gospel and declare it in all its fullness’.

Great doctrinal truths about the atonement bring with them great pastoral comfort and strong evangelistic motivation for all who take it seriously.