Who Killed Jesus?: Meditations on the Murder of the Son of God

jacob-meyer-32136The crucifixion of Jesus is the focal point of Christianity because of the nature of the one nailed to the cross. Wayne Grudem has called the crucifixion of Jesus “the most evil deed of all history.”[1] This is because the most innocent man to ever walk the earth died the death reserved for the worst of criminals. An unjust trial led to brutal beatings and ultimate death by crucifixion, and the Son of God was nailed to a sinner’s cross. It is only fair that anyone with a moral conscious would have to wonder who is responsible for such a horrific act. When the innocent are murdered today, they warrant headline news. Jesus was brutally and unjustly killed. It is here we must ask, who did it? Who is responsible for such a horrific act?

The Method of the Murder

Crucifixion was not reserved only for Jesus. It was a form of execution perfected by the Romans. Crucifixion has been called “the most painful and degrading form of capital punishment in the ancient world.”[2] Originally developed by the Assyrians and Persians, crucifixion was later used by the Greeks and Romans as a form of capital punishment for those who opposed the state. By the time Jesus walked the face of the earth, crucifixion had become more and more common, as crosses bearing criminals became a normal sight on the sides of roads leading into towns.

The Roman method of crucifixion also included scourging and flogging.[3] Not only did scourging increase pain, but it also hastened death and was in one sense merciful as the torture of hanging on the cross was greatly reduced. Nevertheless, the torture was not lacking, as the one being crucified was forced to carry his crossbeam to the execution site where he was then stripped of his clothes and bore a sign detailing his crime.

Once at the execution site, the criminal would have his hands either tied or nailed to the crossbeam. A criminal was only nailed to a cross if the executioners desired a quicker death. If nailed, the nails would be driven through the wrists and feet. Though death often resulted from asphyxiation, it was also common for criminals to bleed out. More often than not, crucifixions were inhumanely brutal, torturously long, and indescribably shameful. This brutal form of capital punishment was on display for all to see. A man was stripped, beaten, scourged, flogged, mocked, degraded, dehumanized, and slowly killed as a public display of the nation’s might and resolve to punish any and all enemies of the state.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the sinless Savior, the suffering Servant, died the ancient world’s worst death in the absolute worst way.

A Grand Murder Mystery Party

In seeking to answer the question, “Who killed Jesus?” it is like participating in a cosmic and historic murder mystery party. The Son of Man hangs on a cross, bows his head, gives up his spirit, and dies. He lays down his life for his sheep. But who is to blame? Who is at fault? Who is responsible? As Jesus’ mangled and bloody body hangs from the cross, all look around on top of the hill outside Jerusalem and wonder who truly killed this sinless and innocent man.

Like all good murder mystery parties, we must look for evidence—clues that lead us to the culprit. There are many suspects and many answers we can give. Let’s look at them.

  1. Was it the Romans?

One could argue that it was the Romans who were responsible for the death of Jesus. Rome did have authority in Israel. Rome was the governing empire in Jerusalem, and all who lived in Israel were subject to Roman rule. Crucifixion also belonged to the Romans. It was their form of capital punishment that killed the Son of God, so it must be Rome! After all, was it not the Roman soldiers that actually carried out the act of crucifixion, nailing Jesus to a cross, waiting for him to die? Did not Jesus appear before multiple Roman leaders? What about Pilate? Did Jesus not appear before him (Matt. 27:2)? Wasn’t it Pilate who ordered the death of Jesus (Matt. 27:17, 22, 24; Luke 23:25)? What about Herod? He mocked the Son of God, found him innocent, yet sent him back to Pilate to make the final call (Luke 23:11). These Roman leaders called for the execution of a man they knew to be completely innocent (Luke 23:14-15). Does it get more evil than this?

The prayer of the early church affirms: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27, emphasis added). So did the Romans kill Jesus? Yes. Yet their motives were evil, and their role was small.

  1. Was it the Jews?

Though we have meddled through some evidence and seen that, yes, the Romans killed Jesus, there is much more evidence at hand. Could there be multiple culprits, multiple killers? Scripture seems to answer so. Surely, the Jews killed Jesus. Was it not the Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus from day one of his ministry? Was it not the Jews who called for his death (Matt. 27:20, 22-23)? Jesus did appear before the Jewish Council where he was questioned and condemned for blasphemy.

Since it was the Jews who pressured Pilate to crucify Jesus, surely the Jews are responsible for the death of the Christ. Peter himself accused the Jews of murdering Jesus in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:23). Again, the prayer of the early church affirms: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27). So, did the Jews kill Jesus? Yes. Yet their motives were evil, and their role was small.

  1. Was it Judas?

How about Judas? We have seen that, yes, it could be said that both the Romans and Jews killed Jesus. However, we have more evidence to consider—a suicide victim. What guilt led Judas to the point of suicide (Matt. 27:3-5)? He “betrayed innocent blood” (Matt. 27:4). Judas was one of the original twelve disciples and was chosen by Jesus to follow him. He was a lover of money (John 12:4-6), and he chose silver over the Treasure. It was Judas who betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Matt. 26:47-50; Luke 22:47-48). Judas delivered Jesus into the hands of those who would crucify him. Surely he is responsible for the death of the Son of God. Based on the evidence at hand, can we say that Judas killed Jesus? Yes. Yet his motives were evil, and his role was small.

God Killed Jesus

We have three suspects before us so far—Romans, Jews, and Judas. Each played a role in the death of Jesus. The Romans judged and crucified him. The Jews delivered and accused him. Judas betrayed him. Each of these components led to the death of the Son of God, and each suspect carried out their respective roles with malice in their hearts. However, there is a better “suspect,” if you will. There is a much greater answer we can give to this question. Who killed Jesus? God did. His motives were pure and his role was grand. God is ultimately responsible for the death of Jesus. The Father did not only send his Son to die, but he sent his Son to be killed at his hand. Realizing this radically changes our understanding of God and his love for sinners. In the active work of the Father in the death of his Son, we get a glimpse of his glory and incomparable love.

It is odd to speak of the death of Christ in this way. It seems quite blasphemous to even say, “God killed Jesus.” Killing connotes sin, and we know that God cannot sin (Titus 1:2; Heb. 4:15; 6:17-18). Nevertheless, this is the way the Bible puts it. In the great Servant Song in Isaiah 53, the prophet writes, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted…All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief (Isa. 53:4, 6, 10, emphasis added). Do you see the active language? God “crushed” his Son. He “put him to grief.” Jesus was “smitten by God.”

Still further in Acts 2:23, Peter proclaims this very idea of divine smiting: “Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” This tells us that behind the evil intentions and actions of the Romans, the Jews, and even Judas was God not merely passively observing, but actively working with the greatest intentions of all. God’s sovereignty over all sin, evil, and suffering is exemplified in the cross of Christ as God is the one who delivers Jesus to be crucified. God smote his Son. God crushed the Christ. God laid on him the iniquity of us all. Who killed Jesus? His Father did. Why? Because God is eternally holy and eternally love (Isa. 6:3; 1 John 4:8, 16). God’s love for his own righteousness and his love for sinners find reconciliation in the death of Jesus. God cannot justly magnify his glory and love sinners without a sinless sacrifice to atone for sin. John Piper words it this way:

The Son was bruised because God-dishonoring sin could not be ignored. And why couldn’t it all be ignored? Why couldn’t God just let bygones be bygones? Because God loves the honor of his name. He will not act as though sin, which belittles his glory, didn’t matter. It cannot simply be swept under the rug of the universe, as though nothing awesome were at stake. The judge of all the earth will do right. He will judge the world in righteousness.[4]

For Love and Glory He Died

God did not sit by idly as lawless men killed his Son. No, God actively killed his Son out of his indescribable love for those who have belittled his glory, defamed his name, and delighted in sin. Who killed Jesus? His Father did. And through this death, God put his glory, his love, his grace and his sovereignty on full display. The Father poured out his wrath on his Son so that guilty sinners would be counted righteous. Jesus bore the wrath of God in our place. Jesus hung in shame on a cross on a hill outside Jerusalem. He was slaughtered by sinful Romans, Jews, and even one of his disciples. Oh, but he hung in glory and love as he bore the sin of those whom God would save. The cross of Christ is a display of sinful man and a sovereign God. In his crucifixion, Jesus’ sinless death displays the glory and love of God for all to see.

In the cross of Christ, we see the righteousness of God in saving sinners. “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). Christian, you can delight in God’s prerogative to kill his Son on your behalf. By your faith in the Son who was slain, you will enter into life. In the death of Christ, death found its death.

Because the Father is eternally committed to his glory and passionately loves sinners, he actively designed in eternity past and carried out at the perfect time the death of his Son (Acts 4:27-28). This is the greatest news for you and me. God vindicated his love for his glory and his love for sinners in the substitutionary death of Jesus. Jesus was forsaken, smitten, crushed, and ultimately killed by God all for love, all for glory, and all for the global worship of the Lamb who was slain (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). Rejoice in the God-designed plan of salvation that only comes through the Christ who was “pierced for our transgressions [and] crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5).

*This post originally appeared as a chapter in my book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 326.

[2] Grant Osborne, “Cross, Crucifixion” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Owen Brand, Charles W. Draper, and Archie W. England (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 368.

[3] Scourging is the process in which a criminal was “beaten with a whip consisting of thongs with pieces of metal or bone attached to the end” (Ibid., 368).

[4] John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Sisters: Multnomah, 1991, 2000), 161.


No Moody Deity: Why the Wrath of God is Unlike the Wrath of Man

fire-orange-emergency-burningIf you’ve ever seen the movie The Lion King, then you’ll surely remember the scene where Mufasa, king of the lion tribe, gazes out at his entire kingdom with his young son, Simba. Mufasa is trying to help Simba see that one day he will be gone and the kingdom will belong to him. The royal lions are gazing out into their dominion of the African safari, which is marked by a glorious and booming sun shining down. Mufasa’s words are, “Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is our kingdom.” Then, little Simba notices another part of the kingdom that is untouched by the sun. He curiously asks his father, “But what about the shadowy place?” Mufasa responds, “That’s beyond our borders. You must never go there, Simba.”

Romans 1 is much like this scene from The Lion King. The first 17 verses shine with the glorious light of the gospel. However, picking up in verse 18 until the end of the chapter, Paul goes to a very dark place. The first half of Romans 1 is the domain of light we not only want to walk in, but all we want to talk about. The second half of Romans 1 is the domain of darkness we would rather ignore. Indeed, we stay away from this shadowy place in thought and action. But as New Testament scholar Douglas Moo has said, “Only when we have really come to grips with the extent of the human dilemma will we be able to respond as we should to the answer to that dilemma found in the good news about Jesus.”

Romans 1:18-32 really is a shadowy place filled with the wrath of God, the power and curse of sin, idolatry, depravity, and judgment. Paul seems to move from the light of the gospel to the darkness of sin and judgment to answer one question: “Why do we need the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation?”

There are few topics or truths in the Bible that ruffle feathers quite like the wrath of God. Even saying, the wrath of God, sounds scary. It’s not something we like to talk about much. In fact, I’ve heard non-Christians say they could easily believe in a God of love, but they could never believe in a God of wrath. In other words, they can believe in a John 3:16 God, but not a Romans 1:18 God.

The problem with this concern is that the John 3:16 God is also the Romans 1:18 God. There aren’t multiple gods revealed in Scripture. There is only one true and living God revealed in Scripture, and he is both loving and holy. Actually, because he is loving and holy, he pours out his wrath against unrighteousness and the unrighteous. But an important question for us to ask is, “What is the wrath of God?”

Wrath is just an intense word that basically means anger. God is angry at unrighteousness and ungodliness. But it is important to remember that God’s anger is not like our anger. It is possible for us to be angry in a righteous or holy way. For example, it is good to be angry at murder, injustice, and evil of all kinds. But most of the time we are angry in sinful ways. Our motivations and actions fueled by anger are usually sinful.

God is never angry in an unrighteous or sinful way. His anger is pure, holy, and right. It is also wrong to think about God’s wrath as the attitude and action of a moody deity. God doesn’t have mood swings or a temper. Instead, in the words of John Stott, “God’s wrath is his holy hostility to evil, his refusal to condone it or come to terms with it, his just judgment upon it.”

God’s righteousness is the origin of his wrath. If he did not hate and destroy that which is unrighteous, he would rob himself of glory and his people of joy. It is amazing news that God opposes unrighteousness and sin because he also absorbs the very wrath the unrighteous deserve. God’s wrath and God’s love are not enemies. The enemy of God’s wrath is neutrality. If God just ignored our sin, he could not save us from our sin. Instead, God’s wrath is against sin and sinners. And in God’s love he sent Jesus to fully bear his wrath in our place. In the finished work of Christ, God saves us from himself, to himself, and for himself.

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

Review: A Christ-Centered Wedding

519JWJfMcxLCatherine Strode Parks and Linda Strode. A Christ-Centered Wedding: Rejoicing in the Gospel on Your Big Day. (Nashville: B&H Books, 2014). 256 pp. $12.51

One of the most stressful experiences in a person’s life is the preparation for one of the most joyful experiences in a person’s life. Marriage is an amazing gift of God’s grace in which we have a unique opportunity to tell the story of God’s covenant-keeping love for his people in the sacrificial love of his Son. Weddings are a snapshot of what should be played out over years of marriage. In general, weddings are beautiful. In one sense, it’s kind of hard to mess them up. But, we’ve all seen our fair share of weddings that just leave you shaking your head.

Nothing deflates a wedding service like that moment when you realize the couple planned their wedding to exalt themselves instead of God. However, nothing brings tears to your eyes like that moment when you realize the couple planned their wedding to put the gospel of Jesus Christ on display and exalt the glory of God’s grace and love for his people, the reality to which marriage points.

Wedding preparation is foreign ground for nearly everyone who embarks on the treacherous journey. Most women who plan their wedding only learn about how expensive they are when they are standing in the flower or dress shop. There are a few societal wedding prep laws that guide the whole wedding prep process for many couples, even Christian couples. First, the wedding day belongs to the bride. It’s her day. Family, friends, photographers, caterers, planners, and the random guy at Starbucks had better cater to the bride’s every whim without complaint because, well, it’s her day!

The second wedding prep law, which flows from the first, is that parents of the bride must spare no expense. Thousands upon thousands of dollars are spent on a 30-minute ceremony and a reception. Many parents go for broke for a few hours of eating, drinking, and dancing.

So, where does the Christian couple begin in the process of planning a wedding that doesn’t follow these wedding prep laws, but instead seeks to put Christ at the center of the wedding? Catherine Strode Parks and Linda Stode seek to answer this question in A Christ-Centered Wedding.

Serving as a helpful guide on the entire wedding prep process, A Christ-Centered Wedding shows couples, particularly brides, how to navigate the treacherous waters of dress shopping, registries, parties, ceremony planning, rehearsal, and reception. From the perspective of a mother-daughter, the authors give their own experiences in wedding planning. But, the ultimate goal of A Christ-Centered Wedding isn’t to provide a litany of tips, but instead to promote a vision of putting Christ at the center of both wedding and marriage. And they desire for the wedding prep process to be joyful and God-honoring, not miserable and God-awful. They write,

Marriage is one of God’s good gifts. It is a blessing to all of creation, and it’s a beautiful picture of Christ’s relationship with the church. Before you can experience the joy of this gift, though, you need to get through the wedding, and the wedding planning. This can be either an uplifting, encouraging experience or a frustrating exercise in trying to please everyone and failing. Many times it’s a combination of the two.

There are many books dedicating to helping couples exalt Christ in their marriage, but Parks and Strode seek to help couples exalt Christ on the wedding day itself. The greatest aspect of A Christ-Centered Wedding is the dual impact of theology and practice. Their theological explanation of the gospel and marriage is satisfying. The first three chapters are biblical meditations on the definition and purpose of marriage, which provides a biblical basis from which to make practical applications. Their basic argument is that since Christ is the center of marriage, he should be the center of the wedding.

But this book isn’t just filled with theological truth. It is also filled with rich practical instruction. When I was helping my sister and her husband plan their wedding, the goal was to plan their wedding to be as God-centered as possible. My goal as the officiant of their wedding was to honor God and honor them while exalting Christ as the center of their wedding. We used many specific practical instructions from A Christ-Centered Wedding in the process of planning their wedding.

The authors provide a plethora of creative and helpful ideas for every aspect of wedding prep from engagement all the way to the end of the reception. In each step of the wedding planning process, the ultimate question the authors ask and answer is, “How does this decision honor Christ and show him to be central to our wedding and marriage?”

I highly commend A Christ-Centered Wedding to any engaged couple in the wedding planning process. It’s also a helpful resource for pastors to use in a premarital counseling setting. Readers will leave with a higher view of marriage, the gospel, and the rightful place of Christ in a wedding–front and center.

I received this book from B&H Books. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

A Work Never Too Hard for Him

construction-work-carpenter-toolsGrowing up, my life revolved around sports. My dad was the Athletic Director at the high school I attended. The first two years I was in high school, I never understood why my dad would come home so tired from his job. He would talk about how hard it was and how he had to make so many difficult decisions. I never really understood why until one day my senior year, I was allowed to miss all of my classes and just follow him around for the day. It didn’t take long for me to see how hard his job was. It seemed like he was on his phone all day. He was talking to referees, athletic directors from other schools, principals, coaches, parents, volunteers, maintenance crews, and even Bermuda grass companies from Florida. Then came the various scheduled meetings with parents and coaches throughout the day. I couldn’t believe how many problems he had to solve and decisions he had to make. I never judged my dad again for being so tired when he got home from work.

In Exodus 18 there is a helpful dialogue between what seems to be a newly converted, Jethro, and the established leader of God’s people, Moses. After a night of reunion, retelling of the story of God’s salvation, and responding with joyful sacrifice, Jethro wakes up the next morning to go to work with Moses. Moses had a job much more difficult than my dad. He was the leader of hundreds of thousands of people. And when hundreds of thousands of people live together every day, there are going to be conflicts that arise. Moses was the judge and mediator for God’s people. One of Moses’ jobs was to listen to the problems and conflicts of the people and judge accordingly. Moses stood between the people of Israel and God to settle their problems by telling them what God expects. The people would come to Moses to ask him what God says they should do or how they should act. Moses would “make them know the statutes of God and his laws” (Ex. 18:16).

Just like I did with my dad, Jethro saw how hard this work was on Moses. Moses literally listened to the problems of the people of Israel and taught them the law of the Lord all day long (Ex. 18:13). Jethro saw how exhausted Moses was, and he knew it was impossible for him to do this job alone (Ex. 18:14). Ultimately, Jethro said this to Moses, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone” (Ex. 18:17-18).

This is what makes the work of Jesus even more amazing. Jesus is the Mediator for his people. He stands between his people and God and settles the problem between us. Our sin against God is our biggest problem with him. By dying in our place, Jesus becomes the Mediator for millions and billions of people throughout history. But he is a perfectly sufficient mediator who needs no help. He alone is able to reconcile us with God. He will never grow tired, because he will exercise judgment and grace with infinite wisdom and strength. The work of bringing us back to God is never too heavy for him.

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.

Jesus Is Far More Than An Example

There is a rising population comprised primarily of millennials who would say that Jesus is a great example to follow, but not a god worth following. They have no problem using some of Jesus’ teachings and actions as an example for how they should live their lives, but they simply do not believe he was who he said he was. Now, while the burden of proof is on them to explain the person of Jesus and explosion of the Church in the first century, it is worth considering whether evangelicals are beginning to see Jesus as simply a great example to follow.
The WWJD mindset leads many pastors and Christians to horribly misinterpret the gospels. If “Jesus is our example” is the guiding hermeneutic principle, then we will fail to discern the person and work of Jesus. Take Jesus’ parables for instance. Many pastors teach the parables as Jesus’ way of contextualizing his message to his hearers. So, we should follow his example and teach the gospel in ways our hearers will understand. The problem is that this is a correct conclusion drawn from an erroneous principle. We indeed should teach the gospel in such a way that our hearers can best understand us. This truth has great cultural significance. But is that really why Jesus taught in parables? So more people could understand him?

Jesus made bizarre and outrageous claims in his life. He claimed to have authority over everyone on earth. He claimed to be God himself. He claimed to be a ransom paid to save sinners who owe God a debt of death. These claims take Jesus far beyond the classroom and into the realm of insanity, or else falsehood, or else glory. In his classic work, Mere Christianity, the great C.S. Lewis put it like this:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

If Jesus is nothing more than an example for us, then his example is in vain. Think about it. If Jesus wasn’t really who he said he was and if he didn’t do what he said he came to do, then he can be written off as a madman. When you are wiling to submit to Jesus as your example, but not as your God, then you are coming to him on your terms. You are not willing for him to change your life. And if you only have Jesus as your example, then you don’t really have Jesus. Plus, Jesus is only admirable and majestic if he is more than an example. The only way we can marvel at and learn from Jesus is if he does more than set an example for us. Jesus is not just our example. Jesus is our representative.

Adam Disobeyed in a Garden of Paradise

A representative is someone who stands in the place of another. This is why elections are always so important, because the votes of our senators and representatives represent us. The Bible talks of two primary representatives for mankind. Both represented us in a garden. Many, many years before Jesus entered Gethsemane, Adam was placed in Eden. He was created without sin. He had a perfect heart, a perfect relationship with God, and he lived in a perfect environment. Yet, Adam failed to keep covenant with God. He was faced with a choice to submit to God’s will, and he bowed to his own. When Adam sinned against God in Eden, he was cursed, banished, and defiled because of his sin. Paradise was lost and the entrance to Eden was guarded by a flaming sword. From that point forward, Adam and all of his offspring would be under the righteous wrath of God.

Friends, outside of faith in Jesus, this is where we all stand—under the righteous wrath of God. God’s wrath can be defined as God’s righteous response to sin. Wayne Grudem calls it his “intense hatred of sin.” Because God is holy, he is wrathful against all that is unholy. In John 3:36, Jesus says that the wrath of God remains on all who do not believe in him. The author of Hebrews understood the wrath of God when he wrote, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

But I especially love the way Lewis communicates God’s wrath in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“Mr. Beaver said, “Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver…”Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Here is the toughest reality that is naturally offensive to the human mind and heart: We deserve God’s wrath because of our sin. We deserve to face what caused Jesus to sweat blood and be so close to death that an angel had to come to his aid. We deserve the horrible, terrible, and terrifying wrath of God not because our sins are particularly egregious, but because God is infinitely holy. It is the greatness of God, not the degree of our sin that puts us under the wrath of God. This means that no matter how small or big you think your sins are, you stand under the flaming sword of God’s wrath.

Jesus Obeyed in a Garden of Agony

But there is good news today for you and me. There is news in this passage that gives purpose, hope, and joy in the midst of all suffering. While Adam disobeyed in a garden of paradise, the Last and True Adam obeyed in a garden of agony. It is no coincidence that Jesus agonized over his impending death and submitted to God’s will in a garden. It was in a garden that we began, in a garden where we fell, and it will be in a garden where we begin to find restoration and redemption. Charles Spurgeon observed this. In one of his great sermons, he said,

May we not conceive that as in a garden Adam’s self-indulgence ruined us, so in another garden the agonies of the second Adam should restore us? Gethsemane supplies the medicine for the ills, which followed upon the forbidden fruit of Eden. No flowers which bloomed upon the banks of the four-fold river were ever so precious to our race as the bitter herbs which grew hard by the black and sullen stream of Kidron.

As our perfect representative, Jesus is prepared to take on the full wrath of God that we deserve. We do not have to sweat blood in agonizing torment before the wrath of God, because Jesus faced his Father’s wrath for us.

We see this in Jesus’ request for the cup to be removed from him. The word “cup” is a metaphor that specifically refers to God’s wrath. Psalm 75:8 says, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.”

What Jesus communicates in this agonizing moment in the Garden of Gethsemane is that his journey has reached its climax. Jesus takes the cup of God’s wrath out of your hands and drinks it down to the dregs. Not because he is wicked and deserving. But because he is willing and able to bear your guilt, your wickedness, your failures, your unbelief, your hypocrisy. Jesus takes the cup reserved for you so that you never have to drink from God’s wrath. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath, so that you may drink the cup of God’s salvation. In the words of theologian Michael Horton, “The same cup that was filled with judgment for the Messiah is now drunk by those who, united to his death and resurrection, receive from it only forgiveness and life.”

But I think Keller says it best:

In the garden of Gethsemane, [Jesus] turns to the Father and all he can see before him is wrath, the abyss, the chasm, the nothingness of the cup. God is the source of all love, all life, all light, all coherence. Therefore exclusion from God is exclusion from the source of all light, all love, all coherence. Jesus began to experience the spiritual, cosmic, infinite disintegration that would happen when he became separated from his Father on the cross. Jesus began to experience merely a foretaste of that, and he staggered.

In the garden of Eden, Adam cried, “Not your will, but mine be done.” But in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus cried, “Not my will, but yours be done.” With this cry from the second Adam, Jesus paves the way for us to return to Eden. Jesus entered a garden of agony and suffering, so that we might re-enter a garden of pure bliss, harmony, joy, and eternal paradise. As our perfect representative, Jesus becomes the ultimate example worth following. But his example is one of humility, self-denial, and it is paved on a road to Golgotha. So, if you want Jesus as your example, be sure you know where he is leading before you decide to follow. But when you choose to trust in Christ as your representative, Christ as your example will satisfy your soul more than anything else you could follow.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

Throwback Thursday: Thomas Brooks on Spiritual Warfare

snakeapple-e1384797536842In his classic work, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, Puritan, Thomas Brooks, makes much of waging war against sin and Satan.
In this book, Brooks observes various devices that Satan employs in his work to destroy the work of God in the life of the believer. He then offers “precious remedies” to sooth the soul and ground the heart in the fight.

The seventh device of Satan is “By making the soul bold to venture upon occasions to sin.” Brooks continues,

Saith Satan, You may walk by the harlot’s door though you won’t go into the harlot’s bed; you may sit and sup with the drunkard, though you won’t be with the drunkard; you may look upon Jezebel’s beauty, and you may play and toy with Delilah, though you do not commit wickedness with the one or the other; you may with the Achan handle the golden wedge, though you do not steal the golden wedge (42).

Brooks responds to this device from Satan with this remedy:

Dwell upon those scriptures that do expressly command us to avoid the occasions of sin, and the least appearance of evil (42).

Brooks has a very important lesson that we must not forget in the midst of spiritual warfare. One way Satan attacks us is through the subtle flatter of our pride and ego. He entices the flesh by challenging us to put ourselves in occasions that could lead to us to sin. When Satan appeals to our pride and fallen reason, how do we respond? By dwelling on the word of God, which commands we avoid such occasions.

We must fight Satan and sin by going to the Scriptures! In order to live in a fallen world where Satan is rampant and sin permeates every aspect of life, Brooks reminds us to dive deep into the text, dwell in the text, and be found in the Bible. To think we can fight Satan’s cunning “devices” with any success without God’s word is ignorant and misplaced.

Satan and sin creep at your bedside and they are waiting to pounce. Paul says this in Romans 7:18, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, but sin dwells within me”. We must begin each day with this realization and have it point us to the cross. This is exactly the attitude of Paul when he wrote, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24)

To fight Satan and sin on a daily basis will require a life focused on the cross. The moment you wake up and think you do not need Christ will be the moment you being to lose spiritual battle after spiritual battle.

Friend, who will deliver you from the body of death, the body of sin. Who will deliver you from the attacks of Satan; from his temptations and accusations? Who is it? It is Christ Jesus! “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25)

Shun the sinful occasions and uproars of Satan as Thomas Brooks encouraged. Look upon the Cross. That is where both sin and Satan find ultimate defeat and death. Fight. Make War.

For you only get one life, and it will soon pass. Only what is done for Christ Jesus will last.

1557562_10153227664651515_1796309980_nEvan Knies is an undergraduate student at Boyce College where he studies Biblical and Theological Studies. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife, Lauren. You can follow him on Twitter @Evan_Knies.

What is the Gospel?: Four Foundational Truths

This post is a continuation of the series: What is the Gospel? If you missed part one, you can check it out here.

Before we begin to discuss what the gospel actually is, it is necessary for us to take a trip into the marvelous mysteries of eternity past. Before we even touch on our need for the gospel, we must consider the God of the gospel in all his glory and holiness. We are attempting to build a biblical theology of the gospel. If we are to do this, we must lay the foundation. God himself is our foundation. Here we will unpack four primary and essential realities that we must consider about God before we probe the sin of man and the gospel of God.

1. The Gospel Begins with God

The first essential reality is that the gospel comes from God. In our thinking about the gospel, this is a vital truth through which we must view all other gospel realities. Jesus Christ in his person and work must be viewed within this God-focused lens. The gospel is from God. Grace is his to give. Salvation is of the Lord. The Bible is clear that salvation belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2:9; cf. Psalm 3:8; Revelation 7:10). And we will see how glorious and good this is for us! God is the giver of salvation. The depositor of mercy. The dolor of grace.

2. God is Perfectly Holy

A second essential reality is that God is perfectly holy. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3; cf. Rev. 4:8)! The seraphim call this to one another. The majestic creatures of heaven proclaim this as they behold the glory of the Lord. He is holy. Oh, he is holy. The Lord God is holy. Here is a list of a few places in the Bible that describe God’s holiness:

  • Leviticus 11:44-45
  • Joshua 24:19
  • Isaiah 1:4; 2:2; 6:3; 41:14, 16, 20; 57:15
  • Ezekiel 39:7
  • Amos 4:2
  • John 17:11
  • Acts 5:3-4, 32
  • Revelation 4:8; 15:4

The word “holy” when used to describe God “signifies everything about God that sets him apart from us and makes him an object of awe, adoration, and dread to us” (J.I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, 43). This means that God’s “Godness” is on full display through his holiness. God is perfect. He is without spot or blemish. He is supremely glorious. No one is like him (Isaiah 46:9; cf. Psalm 86:8; Exodus 15:11). There is no sin within him. And no sin protrudes from him. All good things come from him for he is sovereignly good. And he always has been. Every aspect of his character is marked by his holiness. There are no imperfections in him and he needs nothing to be eternally and completely fulfilled. Once we realize that God is perfectly holy and every aspect of his character (i.e. justice, mercy, wrath, love, etc.) is perfectly holy, we will begin to more fully understand the stipulations of his law. God requires the kind of holiness that he possesses. Another vital truth we realize from God’s holiness is that his justice is perfect. Therefore, there is no injustice in God. He cannot do what is unjust. If he did, he would not be God. This will be a very important consideration later.

3. God is Perfectly Happy

A third essential reality is that God is perfectly happy without people. In other words, God does not need us! He is perfectly glorious and gloriously happy within the relationship of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Spirit live in harmonious joy and eternal bliss. Have you ever thought to yourself, “What was God doing before he created the world?” Remember, God is eternal. And the Son is eternal (Col. 1:17; cf. John 17:24). He has no beginning. “In the beginning…” refers to God’s creating work. What about before the beginning? While many answers to this can be given, I believe that at the very least, God, the “uncaused cause” (Mike Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity, 19) of everything, was living in a blessed joy, a holy love, and Trinitarian bliss, that emanated a glory that we can only imagine. I believe this because Jesus said as much in John 17:24.

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

Michael Reeves notes from this verse, “Before he ever created, before he ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was a Father loving his Son” (Delighting in the Trinity, 21). This is where we must begin. This essential truth about God’s eternality and his eternal love for his Son is the paradigm through which we should view his love for sinners. But what does this have to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Well, everything. Realizing that God was living in perfect harmonious loving joy before creation gives us a clue into the “who” of God. He is love (1 John 4:8, 16). This can only be true if he has had someone to love for all eternity. Possessing love necessitates having someone to love. God is love because the Father has always loved the Son (John 17:24) and the Son has always loved the Father. And the way the Father loves the Son is through the Holy Spirit. And the fullness of joy dwells eternally within him (Ps. 16:11).

Before creation, “the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were happy in themselves, and enjoyed one another before the world was” (Richard Sibbes, “The Successful Seeker,” in Works of Richard Sibbes, 6:113). God is therefore not dependent on creation. To bring this home, God does not need us to be who he is or to be fulfilled. Pertinent to the topic of the gospel, God did not need to save us in order to have a relationship or someone to love. He does not need you and he does not need me—for anything! God could have not saved one person and he would have not been any less God. And the most ground shaking truth is that if God had chosen to not save or even create the world at all, he would still be love. The glorious eternal God is Father, Son, and Spirit and he is perfectly happy in himself!

4. The Gospel Ends with God

Fourth and finally, the goal of the gospel is God himself. God graciously and lovingly created us for his glory (Isa. 43:7). After Adam, we have all (except Christ) fallen short of this glory (Rom. 3:23). The Father then begins to redeem his creation and fallen man through the perfect God-man Jesus Christ. For those whom God has chosen in eternity past he has given to the Son. And for those whom the Father has given the Son, Jesus laid his life down (John 10:15, 29). The ones for whom Jesus died will never perish (John 10:28). They have been redeemed by the blood of the eternal Lamb of God. And this redemption is ultimately for the praise of the glory of the grace of God.

 “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace with which he has blessed us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:5-6).

Thus, the goal of the gospel is the praise of the glory of the grace of the eternally happy God. Simply put, God himself is the end and the goal of the gospel. We treasure the gospel because it gets us God! Those whom Jesus has redeemed will enjoy God forever, thus fulfilling man’s greatest end: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” (Westminster Catechism, Question 1).

Before even approaching the gospel or the devastating effects of sin, which outlines our need for the gospel, these four realities were key foundations for us to lay concerning the God of our salvation.

(1) The gospel is from God. It is untouchable and foreign to all of us outside of his sovereign grace.

(2) God is perfectly holy. He is wholly just in all of his dealings. He cannot permit sin. He hates sin. He cannot do what is unjust because it would be sub-God.

(3) God is perfectly happy without people. He does not need us. He is eternally love and joy apart from creation, including us.

(4) God is the goal of the gospel. Our joy in him glorifies him. And beholding him and delighting in him are the primary purposes of our salvation.

In the following weeks, we will turn from some fundamental realities about our triune God to a basic definition of the gospel and then to some fundamental realities about mankind and our utter need of God’s intervening grace. In other words, we will continue to answer the question, “Why do we need the gospel?”

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.