Roger Ellsworth

B. Childress
Oct 1 2010 08:00 A.M.

When did the Son of God begin moving towards the cross on which he was finally crucified?  When did he know that
shameful death would be his?

Was it there in Gethsemane's dark garden when his sweat became as great drops of blood?  Yes, and before that.

Was it when he rode into Jerusalem amidst the triumphant hosannas of the swelling multitude?  Yes, and before that.

Was it there on Mt. Tabor when he glistened with heaven's glory and spoke of his coming death with Moses and Elijah?  
Yes, and before that.

Was it when he heard John the Baptist decisively declare him to be the Lamb of God?  Yes, and before that.

The testimony of Scripture is clear.  The Son of God began his steady approach to the cross before the world began.  
That approach continued through the long centuries of the Old Testament and was pictured and prophesied during that
time.  In the fullness of time, the Son of God stepped onto the stage of human history as a mere baby for the express
purpose of dying on that cross which he had been approaching from eternity past.  He began his public ministry with that
cross fully in view and unwaveringly approached it until, from its fiery anguish, he was able to cry triumphantly, 'It is

So the cross was no afterthought with God.  It was not a matter of God resorting to Plan B after Plan A had failed.  The
cross was always Plan A, and there has never been a Plan B.  God does not need a Plan B because his plans do not
fail.  To suggest that the cross was a last-minute stratagem that God was forced to accept by previously unforeseen
circumstances is to say that God is not sovereign and is, therefore, not God.  

The cross assigned

Titus 1:2; II Timothy 1:1,9

Paul's opening words to Titus contain a phrase that is enough to take your breath away.  In those words, the apostle is
rejoicing in the glorious gift of eternal life.  In the midst of his rejoicing, he makes mention of the fact that this gift was
promised by God 'before time began' (Titus 1:2).

That is the breathtaking phrase.  Stop and think about it.  'Before time began' means before there were any people.  So
here we have an amazing thing: God made a promise of eternal life for men and women when there were as yet no
people to receive it!

The mystery clears when we look at Paul's second letter to Timothy.  There he is again talking about this matter of
eternal life, and he speaks of '...the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus' (II Timothy 1:1).  A little later he says that the
grace of God 'was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began' (II Timothy 1:9).  There is that phrase again - 'before
time began'.

The Father's love-gift to the Son

So what we have is this: God made a promise of eternal life for people before there were any people to receive it.  But
the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, was there when God made the promise of eternal life for
people who did not yet exist and, according to Paul that promise was given to him.

What this amounts to is the Father promising to give the Son a people who would share eternal glory with him.  In
Ephesians 1:4 the apostle Paul tells us that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.  In Matthew
25:34 the Lord Jesus tells his disciples that a kingdom had been prepared for them from the foundation of the world.

Why would God the Father do such a thing?  Why would he give the Son a people for his own?  Jesus' prayer in John 17
supplies the answer.  There we find him talking to the Father about this very gift, about the people the Father gave him
in eternity past.  His explanation is this: 'For you loved me before the foundation of the world' (John 17:24).

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul speaks of himself and his readers as being among those whom the Father gave to
the Son.  He says God 'translated [or "conveyed" us into the kingdom of the Son of his love' (Colossians 1:13).  There it
is!  The Father gave the Son a people because of the love that he had for the Son.

But how did the gift of a people express the Father's love for the Son?  There are at least a couple of answers to that.  
First, in promising these people to his Son, the Father was pledging that they would bring honour and glory to the name
of the Son for ever and ever (Ephesians 1:12; I Peter 2:9-10; Revelation 5:8-14).  Secondly, in promising these people
to the Son, the Father was pledging that he would eventually make them like the Son (I John 3:2).  It has often been said
that the highest form of flattery is imitation.  In this case, we might say the greatest way for the Father to express his love
for the Son was by making these people like him.

In addition to giving these people to the Son, the Father also wrote their names down in a book - the Book of Life
(Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 assert that there is a Book of Life and that it has names in it that were written there before the
foundation of the world) - and he promised the Son that he would draw each of these people to him (John 6:37,44).

We may picture it like this.  In eternity past, the First Person of the Trinity goes to the Second Person of the Trinity and
says, 'As an expression of my love for you, I am going to give you a gift of a people.  I am going to draw them to you, and
they will serve you for ever, and I am going to make them like you.  As much as it is possible for humanity to be like deity,
they are going to be like you.   They are going to reflect your glory.'  That, in effect, is what the Father promised the Son
in this inter-trinitarian covenant.

The Son's acceptance of the gift

But there was something for the Son to do in order to receive this love-gift from the Father.  This humanity that he was
going to receive would have to be redeemed from the ravages of sin.  Yes, even before God created Adam and Eve and
placed them in the Garden of Eden, he knew they would disobey him and, in so doing, bring the terrible tyranny of sin
upon themselves and their descendants.

The people the Father gave to the Son, then, were those whom the Son would redeem from sin.  What was necessary
for them to be redeemed from sin?  God's penalty against sin would have to be paid.  That penalty was death, not just
physical death (separation of the body from the soul), but rather spiritual death (separation of the soul from God) and
eternal death (separation of body and soul from God for ever).  That penalty had to be paid!  God pronounced it as the
just punishment for sin.  Had he not demanded that it be carried out, he would have denied his own justice and would
have compromised his own character.  

To redeem the humanity given to him, the Son had, therefore, to shoulder, or bear, their punishment for their sin.  He
had to absorb their death in all its dimensions.  In other words, God's plan of salvation called for the Son to become the
surety for those whom the Father was giving him.

The concept of a surety

A surety is, of course, one who agrees to stand good for another.  He stands as the guarantor for someone else.  He
agrees to discharge completely all the obligations of the person for whom he stands, so much so that the one whom he
represents has no outstanding obligations against him at all.

Now why was it necessary for those who were part of the Father's love-gift to the Son to have a surety?  What would be
their obligations to God, and why would they be unable to discharge them?  As God's creatures, they would be
responsible to render perfect obedience to God's law, but they would fail to do so.  Their first surety, Adam, would sin
against God and, in doing so, would bring them into terrible calamity and ruin.

The only way out of this ruin was for someone else to stand as their surety.  They could not do it themselves.  Even if
they could perfectly obey the law of God as their first surety, Adam, had failed to do, they were already under the
sentence of death.

The Father's plan of redemption called upon his Son to serve as the surety for those who were his love-gift, to bring
them back into favour with God by doing for them what they could not do for themselves and by discharging their
responsibility.  This was the essential ingredient of the Son's acceptance of this gift, and the good news for sinners is
that he gladly and willingly agreed to become the surety for his people.

The work of the surety

This brings us to the very core of the plan of redemption upon which the three persons of the Trinity agreed before the
foundation of the world.  It can be summarized in three words: 'propitiation through substitution'.

Propitiation.  The word 'propitiation' brings us to a reality that is most distasteful and disconcerting to modern ears -
namely, the wrath of God.  We shall look at this in more detail later, but at this point we must realize that God does not
take our sin lightly.  He does not smile benignly upon it, or dismiss it was the mere naughtiness of children.  He is angry
about it.  This is a frightening reality, so much so that the psalmist David describes it in these sombre terms:

God is a just judge,
And God is angry with the wicked every day.
If he does not turn back,
He will sharpen his sword;
He bends his bow and makes it ready.
He also prepares for himself instruments of death;
He makes his arrows into fiery shafts.

(Psalm 7:11-13)

Only if we understand the wrath of God can we delight in the word 'propitiation'.  It has to do with wrath being appeased,
or satisfied.  What a momentous thought!  The wrath of God can be appeased.  It can be averted so that it does not fall
on guilty sinners.  This is indeed wonderful news!

Substitution.  But exactly how does this happen?  The Bible insists that the only way for God's wrath against the sinner
to be appeased is for it to fall on a substitute.  God's holy character demands that sin be judged.  There is no way
around this.  God cannot just put his wrath away.  His justice demands that sin be punished.  His wrath must be
appeased, and this can be in one of two ways.  Either the sinner himself can bear the wrath of God against his sin, or
another can come between the sinner and God and endure the stroke of God's wrath in the sinner's place.  In other
words, there can be a substitute who comes between God and the sinner and absorbs in his own person the wrath of
God.  God's justice only demands that his sentence against sin be carried out once.  So if a substitute comes in and
takes on himself the blow of God's wrath, God is completely satisfied.

In order to receive the love-gift the Father was proposing to give him, the Son had to agree to become their substitute.  
He had to agree to become the Last Adam, to become their representative head and, as such, to take in their place the
stroke of God's justice.

How was the Son of God to go about this business of absorbing the punishment of his people in all its dimensions?  
he would have to come to this world because this world was the arena, or the realm, in which man would fail.  
he would have to become a man.  He could not represent his people and pay for their sins unless he was a
man himself.  The penalty required man to die, and it was only as a man that he could take it on himself.

It was at this point, we might say, that the cross of Christ was erected.  This was the type of death God chose for his Son
to endure on behalf of the people that the Father was giving to the Son.  On that cross, the Son of God would not only
experience physical death, but also spiritual and even eternal death.

The redemption of those whom the Father gave to the Son consisted of this - God treated Jesus on the cross as if he
had committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe, when, in fact, he had committed none
at all.  By that death, the Son would satisfy all the demands of God's justice against those people given him by the
Father and they would therefore, be freed from sin and would become his special people.

This redeeming work was what the Father required of the Son in order to receive this love-gift.  What was the Son's
response to all of this?  There is no mystery or uncertainty about it.  The Son gladly and willingly accepted the gift of the
people and the price of their redemption, and he also pledged that he would not lose any of those whom the Father had
given him, but would raise every single one up at the last day (John 6:39-40).

The Holy Spirit's agreement

It is important for us to realize that there was a third party in this council, namely, the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy
Spirit of God.

After the Father gave the Son a people and the Son accepted that gift and agreed to come and provide redemption for
them, the Holy Spirit agreed to come after the Son's ascension and apply the benefits of his redemption to their
individual hearts.

From the time when God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit entered into this covenant, the Son set his
face towards that cross and began moving towards it.  This is the reason why the Bible calls the Lord Jesus Christ "the
Lamb" that was 'foreordained' and 'slain' before the foundation of the world (I Peter 1:19-20; Revelation 13:8).

How awesome this is?  The triune God held a council and we who are redeemed were the subject of it - amazing!  The
cross was agreed upon there as the means of providing that redemption - astonishing! And each of the three persons of
the Trinity, out of unfathomable love for sinners, followed his part of the plan in perfect faithfulness - incredible!  And it
was all for guilty sinners!


JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, Evangelical Press.