Getting God is the Good News of the Gospel
In the previous article we began a brief study of 1 Peter 3:18 in which the Apostle makes five stunning statements about what Jesus has done for sinners. Here we continue with the final two assertions.
(4) When Jesus suffered for sins it was in the place of sinners: it was “for” them, as a substitute.
I speak and write often of the sacrifice of Christ as substitutionary. Sometimes people use the word “vicarious” to emphasize that Jesus stepped into history and did for us what we could not do for ourselves. This is the heart of substitutionary atonement. Jesus didn’t simply love us from a distance. He didn’t merely speak of his mercy or his grace. That would have been of not benefit to us. What we needed first and foremost and above all else was the sinless Son of God to become one of us, a human being, and as the God-man to live a life for us that we could not live, in complete and perfect obedience to the law of God, and to die a death that we should have died to satisfy the wrath of God that we alone deserved.
This is what Peter means when he speaks of Jesus suffering “for” us, in our place, enduring what we deserved, dying our death.
If Jesus did not die as your substitute, filling your place, standing in your stead, taking upon himself the obligation and debt that you owed God, then you must face the wrath of God, for yourself, on your own, all alone. Do you not see, then, that if there is no substitution there is no salvation? Do you not see, then, how eternally important that little word “for” is?
(5) When Jesus died, he did it to bring sinners to God.
The assumption here is that we are far from God. Distant. Alienated. Separated. Far removed. Unqualified to be near him. Ignorant of him. Blind to his beauty. Deaf to his voice. Insensitive to his splendor. Indifferent to his glory.
Our greatest need isn’t that you tell me I’m ok and I’ll tell you you’re ok. Our greatest need is to get to God.
He didn’t die so you could feel better about yourself. He didn’t die so you experience a deep and abiding sense of emotional well-being. He didn’t die so you could escape the psychological torment of self-contempt.
This may at first sound strange to you, but Jesus didn’t die so you could experience redemption and deliverance from the power of sin. He didn’t die so you could be forgiven of the guilt of your sins. He didn’t die so you could be declared righteous before a holy God. He didn’t die so you could be adopted into God’s family.
Oh yes, make no mistake. It is because of his death for sinners that you can experience redemption and forgiveness and justification and adoption. But he made possible these experiences through his death so that he might bring you and me to God! Getting to God is what it’s all about. Everything else is subordinate to that one primary and all-consuming end.
Here is how John Piper put it:
But what is the ultimate good in the good news? It all ends in one thing: God himself. All the words of the gospel lead to him, or they are not gospel. For example, salvation is not good news if it only saves from hell and not for God. Forgiveness is not good news if it only gives relief from guilt and doesn’t open the way to God. Justification is not good news if it only makes us legally acceptable to God but doesn’t bring fellowship with God. Redemption is not good news if it only liberates us from bondage but doesn’t bring us to God. Adoption is not good news if it only puts us in the Father’s family but not in his arms.
This is crucial. Many people seem to embrace the good news without embracing God. There is no sure evidence that we have a new heart just because we want to escape hell. That’s a perfectly natural desire, not a supernatural one. It doesn’t take a new heart to want the psychological relief of forgiveness, or the removal of God’s wrath, or the inheritance of God’s world. All these things are understandable without any spiritual change. You don’t need to be born again to want these things. The devils want them. It is not wrong to want them. Indeed it is folly not to. But the evidence that we have been changed is that we want these things because they bring us to the enjoyment of God. This is the greatest thing Christ died for. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
Why is this the essence of the good news? Because we were made to experience full and lasting happiness from seeing and savoring the glory of God. If our best joy comes from something less, we are idolaters and God is dishonored. He created us in such a way that his glory is displayed through our joy in it. The gospel of Christ is the good news that at the cost of his Son’s life, God has done everything necessary to enthrall us with what will make us eternally and ever-increasingly happy, namely, himself. Long before Christ came, God revealed himself as the source of full and lasting pleasure. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). Then he sent Christ to suffer “that he might bring us to God.” This means he sent Christ to bring us to the deepest, longest joy a human can have. Hear then the invitation: Turn from “the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25) and come to “pleasures forevermore.” Come to Christ.
John Piper, chapter 22, The Passion of Jesus Christ (also titled, 50 Reasons Jesus Came to Die)
“Oh, I get it Sam. Jesus died for us just like Gandhi died.” No! You don’t get it. Gandhi’s death isn’t anything like the death of Jesus. Gandhi died at the hands of a single assassin. Gandhi died as a political figure, a social revolutionary, but his death has no eternal effect on you or me. I watched the Academy Award winning film, Gandhi, starring Ben Kingsley in the title role. I was deeply moved by the sacrifices he made. I was stirred by his passion for the poor of the earth. I was convicted when I witnessed his incredible desire to see the many people of India reconciled.
But Gandhi didn’t die, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God. His death contributed absolutely nothing to bringing you into relationship with God. His death did nothing to wipe clean your sins. His death did nothing to satisfy and propitiate the wrath of God against you.
And neither will your death!
“O.K., Sam, I think I’m getting it. But perhaps Jesus died for us just like John F. Kennedy did.” No! You’re still not getting it. Kennedy died at the hands of a crazed man named Lee Harvey Oswald, who knows for what reason. Kennedy’s death shocked a nation, indeed the whole world. The whole world was moved to tears. The whole world mourned and wept. But the assassination of John F. Kennedy did nothing to bring me or you and anyone else to God. There was nothing in Kennedy’s death that obtained for anyone the redemption from sin.
“O.K. O.K. Don’t give up on me yet, Sam. I’m tracking with you. I’m tracking with Peter. Could it be that the death of Jesus should be compared, not to Gandhi or Kennedy but with Martin Luther King, Jr.?” No! No! You’re not tracking with me or with Peter.
Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life to promote racial justice. He died in the cause of racial reconciliation. Whatever else you may think of King, none can deny that he accomplished more than anyone else in our history to bring to light the horrors of racial prejudice. In his life and in his death he achieved some monumental things when it comes to civil rights in America.
But his death at the hands of a hate-filled racist did nothing to reconcile us to our Creator. It was utterly incapable of satisfying the claims of divine justice against an entire globe of fallen and sinful people.
Let’s be clear about a couple of things. Whatever else you may think of Gandhi or John Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr. or any other great figure in human history whose death was notable and tragic and even history making, none of them were “righteous” as Jesus was righteous. No matter how much was achieved socially and politically and racially by their deaths, when it comes to their personal relationship with God someone else would have to die for them, someone who was truly and completely righteous in a way and to a degree that they never were.
All of you have seen death, in one way or another. Whether the death of an aged grandparent or a new-born child or a life-long friend or a famous politician. Consider for just a moment the deaths of famous individuals that may have occurred in recent weeks. None of them suffered and died as a sacrifice for the sins of others. None of them died as the righteous for the unrighteous. None of their deaths brought anyone, not even themselves, to God.
No one’s death in all of history has ever been in the same class or of the same quality or occurred for the same cause or achieved the same ends as did the death of Jesus.
That doesn’t mean that everyone who witnessed the death of Jesus of Nazareth knew that his death was different. They didn’t.
The majority of Jewish people who were drawn to Jesus as a miracle worker never embraced him as Lord and Savior.
Or consider the Roman political leaders such as Pontius Pilate. Jesus was a nuisance, a threat to the stability of the land. His death was no different from the deaths of dozens of others he had ordered, except for the fact that the Jewish crowds took an unusual interest in it.
Or think of the religious leaders who were personally threatened by him and thus saw his death as a relief from the pressure he put on them and the criticism he directed toward them.
Then there were the soldiers who scourged him and drove nails into his hands and feet. As far as they were concerned, Jesus was just another political zealot who was causing problems in the land and needed to be eliminated and made an example so that others would not follow in his steps.
But most of all, consider the perspective of the two thieves crucified on either side of him. For one, Jesus was just another thief. The only thing that Jesus’ death meant to him was that he now didn’t have to die alone. At least another man was suffering in the same way he was. But for the other, the death of Jesus was altogether unique. The other thief, the one who by God’s grace came to saving knowledge of Jesus as he hung on his own cross, recognized that this was a death unlike any other death in the history of mankind.
This is the gospel of Christianity. This is the good news. Nothing makes sense apart from this truth. The Christian faith will never mean anything to you or be of any benefit, now or in eternity, unless and until you see the truth of 1 Peter 3:18 and embrace it in your heart and soul and mind and will as your only hope for eternal life.