We have come in our consideration of these biblical doctrines to the point at which we find ourselves face to face with the great doctrine of the atonement. We have seen that there is only one way whereby men and women can be reconciled to God and that is in and through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and we have started our consideration of His work, having first considered His person. The work is divided, as we have seen, according to the Scriptures themselves—Christ is Prophet, Priest and King. We have considered the teaching concerning Christ as Prophet and we are now considering His work as Priest. We have seen that He satisfies the desiderata which were laid down so clearly in Hebrews 5:1–5; He fulfils all those demands. And we saw that the two main functions of the Priest are to present offerings and sacrifices and to make intercession. I ended that lecture by saying that He has an offering to offer and a sacrifice to present that God has accepted. This brings us inevitably to the consideration of what it is our Lord does offer, and did offer to God, as our great High Priest. And at once we come face to face with the doctrine of the atonement. This concerns primarily, but not only, as I shall be at pains to emphasise, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore our main subject now will be a consideration of the biblical teaching with regard to that.
Now the great question is: What exactly did happen when our Lord died upon the cross? Obviously this is a most vital question, indeed, the most vital question we can ever face together. It would be vital even if we were to look at these things merely from the prominence that is given to this truth in the New Testament itself. It is an actual fact that the death of our Lord upon the cross is mentioned directly
175 times in the New Testament and indirectly many more times. That in itself is staggering and arresting, and it shows the importance which is given to it in the New Testament Scriptures.
Or look at it like this: take the four Gospels; we realise that they are but four portraits of our Lord; they do not tell us everything about Him. John, you remember, ended His Gospel by saying, ‘And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written’ (John 21:25). But these are written; they are samples, if you like, they are books, they are portraits. And, of course, they are short. Each one of the Gospels is a comparatively short book and yet the striking thing is that in each of them practically one third of the space is devoted to the death of our Lord. It is exactly one third of Matthew; it is nearly one quarter of Luke; and in the case of Mark and John it is over one third.
So we can say that on average, of the space that is given to the coming of the Son of God into this world and all that He did and said, one third is devoted to His death and the events immediately leading up to it. So obviously the implication is that the Gospels are thus bringing us to see that while His incarnation and His life and teaching are of vital importance, the event that exceeds all others in importance is His death upon the cross. So there, again, is another reason why we should consider this very, very carefully and especially, let me remind you, when we bear in mind that the people who wrote those Gospels, under the guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit, knew very well that this very thing that they were so emphasising was, as Paul reminds the Corinthians, a ‘stumbling block’ to the Jews, and ‘foolishness’ to the Greeks (see 1 Cor. 1:23). Though they knew all that, they put it in the forefront.
Then when you look at the book of Acts, you will find that His death is given the same prominence. The apostle Paul’s method, wherever he went, was that he went into the synagogue and he did two things. He proved and established that ‘the Christ must needs have suffered’, and, second, he said that ‘This Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ’ (Acts 17:3); and when you go on to the epistles the same thing is made abundantly clear. The apostle says, ‘I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2); and he goes on repeating it: ‘I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures …’ (1 Cor. 15:3); and there are other similar verses.