The Father satisfied
Matthew 27:51; Acts 2:24, 32-36
God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit entered into covenant with each other before the world began. There the Father gave the Son a people with the understanding that the Son would make atonement for their sins and thereby propitiate the Father's wrath against them. There the cross of Calvary was erected. There the Son of God agreed to become man to go to that cross to make the atonement. From that time he began steadily and determinedly to approach that cross.
All through the long centuries of prophecy, at his baptism, in the wilderness, throughout his public ministry, even there in the anguish of Gethsemane, Jesus approached the cross.
Finally, the nails were hammered into his hands and feet. That long-expected cross was hoisted into the air. He hung suspended between heaven and earth. That point to which all history had moved was at last realized. The blood poured down. The sun hid its face. And he died. In keeping with the eternal covenant, Jesus Christ died on Calvary's cross.
That cross, as we have already noted, was necessary to satisfy the wrath of God. Did it achieve its purpose? Or did Christ die in vain? Was God the Father satisfied with what his Son did there on the cross? How do we know he was satisfied with his Son's death there? The Bible gives us the answer by emphatically pointing to four signal events.
The tearing of the veil
The first of these events was far more astonishing than most of us realize. It was the tearing of the thick, heavy curtain that separated the temple's Most Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The Most Holy Place was the place where the high priest alone could enter once each year to make atonement for the sins of the people. William Hendriksen says of the curtain that sealed off the Most Holy Place: 'This inner curtain is the one described in Exodus 26:31-33; 36:35; II Chronicles 3:14. As pictured in these passages, strands of blue, purple, and scarlet were interwoven into a white linen fabric, in such a manner that these colours formed a mass of cherubim, the guardian angels of God's holiness, symbolically as it were barring the way...'
That curtain gave mute and eloquent testimony to a very solemn reality - namely, that man cannot stand before a holy God except on the basis of atonement for his sins. Even the atonement made by the High Priest once a year was not a sufficient basis for that curtain to be removed. The blood of animals could only anticipate the needed atonement; it certainly could not supply it.
Now it is three o'clock in the afternoon. The priests are busy at work in the temple. Caiaphas himself - he who had unwittingly prophesied that one must die for the whole nation so that the nation should not perish (John 11:50) - is busy in the temple. On Golgotha's hill outside the city the one whom Caiaphas and the religious leaders were so anxious to be rid of, Jesus, cries with a loud voice: 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit' (Luke 23:46) and dies.
At that precise moment, that thickly-woven veil is torn from top to bottom as easily as a man would tear a sheet of paper in two. But this is not the hand of man; it is the hand of God! Imagine the astonishment of Caiaphas and all those in the temple as they hear the sound of that rending and then see the Most Holy Place standing naked before their eyes.
What did it mean? Why did God do this? It was his testimony, in the words of F. W. Krummacher, 'that the Levitical service, though divinely ordered and prophetically significant, contained only types of a coming salvation, which, now that the latter was accomplished, were rendered void, even as the blossom is expelled by the fruit'.
In addition, it signified that sinners now have full and free access to God on the basis of Christ's death on the cross. Full atonement has been made. We can enter into the presence of God knowing Jesus Christ has fully satisfied the demands of his holy justice against us. Krummacher observes that Christ's act of mediation 'answered and fulfilled everything requisite for our justification in the sight of God, and therefore, also for our admission before the throne of God'.
That veil would not have been torn had God the Father not been completely and fully satisfied with his Son's atoning death.
The resurrection of Jesus
The second event through which God signalled his satisfaction with Christ's death was the resurrection. The consistent testimony of Scripture is that it was God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead, and that act evidenced his full approval of his Son (Acts 2:24,32; 4:10; 17:31).
The direction of the plan of redemption for the Lord Jesus Christ was down, down, down. He left the throne of heaven's glory to come down to this world of sin and darkness. How low he stooped! He traversed the massive gap between a throne in heaven and Bethlehem's stable and the carpenter's shop in Nazareth.
Perhaps the angels, as they witnessed it, said, 'He surely can't go any farther down than that.' But he did. He went down into the baptismal waters to freely identify himself with sinners.
Maybe when the angels saw that they said, 'That's as far down as he can go.' But he went further yet into the crucible of hostility during his public ministry. When the angels witnessed that, they may have remarked that he was down as far he could go. But as we follow him further, we find him in the depths of sorrow and anguish there in Gethsemane. And once again the angels must have wondered if it were possible for him to go any further.
The next day he went there to Golgotha to be crucified, and I can imagine the angels saying to each other, 'He has finally reached the bottom. He can surely go no further.' But as I look now at that cross, I see ladders being placed on each side of it, nails being removed, the limp, lifeless body of the Son of God slumping over a sturdy shoulder and being gently lowered to the ground. I see it now carried aside, washed and wrapped in linen cloths with spices being sprinkled in with each wrap. I see it gently carried to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. I see there in the gathering gloom strong shoulders being put to the massive rock in front of the tomb. I hear the grunts and the thud as that stone falls heavily into its place. And I hear the Father say to the angels of heaven, 'There! He has gone down as far as he can go!'
Yes, Jesus went all the way down into the very depths of death. But the glorious news of Scripture is that he didn't stay down.
There can be no doubt about the significance of his resurrection. The apostle Paul says that through it Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power (Romans 1:4). The Greek word that is translated 'declared' was originally used to describe the marking off of a field. It referred to something being clearly defined. What has been clearly defined by the resurrection of Jesus? What does it tell us about him? Paul tells what he claimed to be - the Son of God.
But the apostle is not content merely to affirm that. He adds those two words, 'with power'. What is the significance of this? When the Son of God came into this world, he did not come as the Son of God with power. Far from it! He came as a helpless baby.
He was, of course, the Son of God even while he was that helpless infant in Bethlehem's manger. Make no mistake about that. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, was always God, and he did not give up his deity when he came to this world. But that deity, while still there, was veiled while he was here on earth.
But when the Lord Jesus Christ arose from the grave, the veil was laid aside, and he was clearly shown to be what he had been all along - God in human flesh! He who had been 'made' flesh was 'declared' by the resurrection to be the Son of God. Mark Paul's words: the Son of God had to be 'made' flesh, but he did not have to be 'made' the Son of God. He was already that! All that was necessary was for him to be 'declared' to be the Son!
Who did this declaring? It was God the Father! And through this mighty declaration, God was pronouncing his verdict upon Jesus.
The wicked men who crucified Jesus had pronounced their verdict upon him. That cruel act was their way of saying Jesus was not God in human flesh, in other words, that he was an impostor. But their verdict was not God's. God, we might say, overturned their verdict and rendered it null and void by raising Jesus from the dead.
Each of us has also to render a verdict upon Jesus. We must either agree with those who crucified him, or with God the Father who raised him.
But there is even more to the resurrection of Jesus. The apostle Paul also tells us that we have 'justification' through that resurrection (Romans 4:25). That word takes us to the very heart and soul of the Christian faith. It takes us into a courtroom. The judge in this courtroom is none other than the Judge of the whole world - God himself.
The Judge is also the supreme Law-giver. He has promulgated certain laws. He is perfect and holy himself, and he demands that each and every one of us bring a perfect holiness into his courtroom before he will allow us to enter into heaven. This puts us in a terrible dilemma because we have no righteousness to present to this Judge. All we have is sin.
All looks to be utterly hopeless but, thank God, there is hope. God, the perfect Law-giver and Judge, is also gracious. He takes no delight in the condemnation of sinners. So he himself has made a way for us to be forgiven and for us to have the righteousness he demands. That way is through his Son, Jesus Christ.
But what does all this have to do with the resurrection of Jesus? Why does Paul link our ability to stand before God, to present to him the righteousness he demands, with the resurrection of Jesus? Was it not the death of Christ on the cross by which atonement was made for sin? William Hendriksen provides the answer in these words: 'The Father, by raising Jesus from the dead, assures us that the atoning sacrifice has been accepted; hence, our sins are forgiven.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains it in this way: 'The resurrection is the proclamation of the fact that God is fully and completely satisfied with the work that his Son did upon the Cross...If God had not raised Him from the grave we might draw the conclusion that our Lord was not able to bear the punishment of the guilt of our sins, that it was too much for Him, and that His death was the end.'
So we can say God made two declarations by raising Jesus from the dead. First, he declared him to be his Son. Secondly, he declared his work to be completely satisfactory.
The ascension of Jesus
After he arose from the grave, the Lord Jesus spent forty days with his disciples. During this time he furnished them with 'many infallible proofs' of his resurrection (Acts 1:3). When this period was over, he ascended to the Father in heaven (Acts 1:9).
The ascension does not seem to receive much attention or emphasis these days, but it is yet another of the vital links in the chain of redemption. It is one more way that the Father indicated his complete satisfaction with his Son and his work of redemption.
The Scriptures make it clear that Jesus was received in heaven by the Father. He was given a seat at the right hand of God (Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 12:2). That is 'the seat of cosmic authority', and he is even now reigning as king. Some place Christ's reign completely in the future, but on the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter stood before the thousands gathered in Jerusalem to proclaim that Jesus began to reign as soon as he was seated at the Father's right hand. For proof of his assertion, Peter cited the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). The Holy Spirit is, then, the gift of the risen, reigning Christ to his followers to enable them to carry out his work in the world.
From that seat of authority, Jesus Christ also continues his work as our great High Priest. He intercedes for all those who come to God by him (Hebrews 7:25), and he sympathizingly cares for the needs of his people (Hebrews 4:14-16).
We should note yet another implication of the ascension - one that very few seem to ponder. When Jesus ascended to the Father, he took our humanity back into glory with him. Here again we see the marvel of his grace. When he took on himself our humanity, he did not do so just for the years he was here on earth, but for ever. The Lord Jesus did not cease to be a man after he went back into heaven. He now has a glorified body, but it is still a body - the same type of body believers will receive when he finally returns from heaven to take them unto himself.
The sending of the Holy Spirit
A further sign of the Father's satisfaction with his Son's atoning death is found fifty days after Jesus arose from the grave. Before he was crucified, Jesus spoke these words to his disciples: 'And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Helper, that he may abide with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; but you know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you' (John 14:16).
That promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. As the disciples were waiting in Jerusalem for this promise to be fulfilled, 'There came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting' (Acts 2:2).
The coming of the Holy Spirit was indisputable proof that the Father had heard and answered the prayer Jesus had promised to pray. We may be sure the Father would not have heard this prayer, and the Spirit would not have been sent, if the Father had not been completely satisfied with his Son's death on the cross.
The rending of the veil, the resurrection, the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit merge their individual voices into a single, mighty, indisputable testimony that the God before whom we must eventually stand and give account has been completely satisfied by the work of his Son. Because of that, all who belong to him can stand on that awesome day without fear.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.