Christ suffered for us on the cross to give us an example of how we also are to suffer patiently, enduringly, in the midst of unjust treatment.

Christ, as we noted last Sunday night, was treated more unjustly than any creature will ever be treated because He was the only perfect person.

So all that came against Him was utterly undeserved and hell as well as humanity massed its powers against Him. And so He suffered in a way that none of us will ever really know as to extent.

And in doing such suffering, He was the perfect example of patient endurance, though the suffering was more unjust than any other, He nonetheless gives us the perfect model of patient endurance. He then becomes our standard, our pattern. He suffered to set an example. We will suffer unjustly as believers in an ungodly society. We are to follow the pattern of Jesus Christ.

But there is a greater way that He suffered for us. He suffered not only as our standard but tonight I want you to look at the fact that He suffered as our substitute…He suffered as our substitute. Notice verse 24. This is a great text, one that ought to be underlined in every Bible. “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness for by His wounds you were healed.”

That great verse speaks of Christ as our substitute. It speaks of Christ as the one who took our place. By the way, we noted last time that as Peter unfolds this closing section of chapter 2, he’s thinking of Isaiah 53. And he will be alluding to Isaiah 53 verse 4, verse 5, and verse 11 here because in those verses in Isaiah 53, Isaiah writes about the substitutionary sin bearing death of Christ. And here again I say is the heart of the Christian gospel. The great doctrine of substitution, that is that Christ was our substitute in dying is basic to our faith. In fact, we could safely say that all other elements of salvation merely surround this great core truth.

One of my favorite writers is now with the Lord, a man by the name of Leon Morris, you do well to read anything he ever wrote. Leon Morris writes, “Redemption is substitutionary for it means that Christ paid that price that we could not pay, paid it in our stead and we go free. Justification interprets our salvation judicially and as the New Testament sees it, Christ took our legal liability, took it in our stead. Reconciliation means the making of people to be at one by the taking away of the cause of hostility. In this case, the cause is sin and Christ removed that cause for us. We could not deal with sin,” says Morris, “He could and did and did it in such a way that it is reckoned to us. Propitiation points us to the removal of the divine wrath and Christ has done this by bearing the wrath for us. It was our sin which drew it down, it was He who bore it.

“Was there a price to be paid? He paid it. Was there a victory to be won? He won it. Was there a penalty to be borne? He bore it. Was there a judgment to be faced? He faced it,” end quote.

And what Leon Morris is saying is whether you’re talking about redemption, justification, reconciliation, whether you’re talking about the removal of sin and transgression, whether you’re talking about propitiation or covering, all of those are corollaries, in a sense, to the great truth of substitution, that Christ took our place on the cross. So the Apostle Paul sees Christ as substitute.

In 2 Corinthians he says there what Peter says here. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” and there he echoes Peter’s words…does Paul. Peter says it’s substitution. Paul says it’s substitution that is at the heart of the Christian gospel. Paul also says in Galatians 3:13 that Jesus was made a curse…then these two words…for us…for us.

To put it as simply as I can put it, if Christ is not my substitute, then I still occupy the place of a condemned sinner. If my sins and my guilt are not transferred to Him, and He does not take them, then they remain with me. If He did not deal with my sins then I must deal with them. If He did not bear my penalty then I must bear it. There is no other possibility. It is either Him or me. Some have suggested, by the way, that it is immoral to teach the doctrine of substitution. Some theologians have suggested that, that it is immoral to teach that God in human flesh took on sin and bore my sin and your sin. But it is not immoral because you are not pushing something on God that He wouldn’t want. You are not tainting His holiness…not at all. The truth of the matter is that in the process of salvation, mark this, God is not transferring penalty from one man guilty to another man innocent. No, He is bearing the sin Himself for Jesus was God in human flesh.

The point is this, nobody is pushing substitutionary death off on God, God took it on Himself. It is not immoral. It is not an affront to a holy God to say that He bore sin. He did it by His own will. He wills that sin be punished and He wills to be the victim who bears its punishment. The bottom line is this, either Christ took my sins and bore them or I will. Either He paid the penalty for my sin or I will pay it in hell forever.

Now what does the text say? It begins with these words, “And He Himself bore our sins…” “He Himself” is emphatic and it means to emphasize that this is God in human flesh bearing our sins, not because somebody outside the trinity pushed it on Him, but because He chose it Himself. He Himself bore our sins. He did it alone, the emphatic personal pronoun indicates that He did it alone and it also indicates that He did voluntarily. Voluntarily and alone God took on our sins. He came into the world to save His people from their sins, as John said of the Lamb of God in John 1:29. Peter is simply affirming that Jesus willingly took on Himself sin, He Himself with no outside influences bore our sins. That’s the key.

Some people think Jesus died as a martyr, you know that. They think that Jesus is just a great example of someone who died for a cause. That’s the “Jesus Christ Superstar” mentality, that Jesus was a martyr who lived for a good cause and sets a great example of how to be so sold out to a cause that you’re willing to die as a martyr. And admittedly, a martyr can be an example of suffering but a martyr cannot be a substitute. A martyr cannot take away my sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Look at 1 Peter 3:18 for a moment where Peter reiterates this same great truth of substitution, “For Christ also died for sins once for all…here it is…the just for the unjust.” He the just died as a substitute for us the unjust. He took our place. The verb “bore” there means to carry a massive heavy weight. And that’s exactly what sin was…a heavy weight that Jesus bore for us. In fact, if you want to know how heavy the burden is, read Romans 8, it says that all creation creaks and groans and moans under the burden of sin. Jesus took the heavy weight of our sins.
(Online source)

John MacArthur

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