I have had a rough couple of months when it comes to driving – I’ve gotten three tickets! One was because I didn’t “stop” when I was turning right on a red light, and the other two were for speeding. All three were my fault. I couldn’t say the red light camera didn’t actually have a picture of my car failing to stop before I turned right. On the other two, I couldn’t say the policeman’s radar wasn’t correct. I was actually going as fast as the policeman said I was. Now on the last one, I could claim ignorance because I hadn’t ever noticed that most of Hillcrest is now marked as a school zone.
Claiming ignorance wasn’t going to help me though. I wasn’t any less guilty because I didn’t notice the School Zone. The alternative to paying is losing my driver license, paying a bigger fine, or, if I continue to refuse to pay for my transgression, I could go to jail.
Do you think that if I went into City Hall and told them I was very, very sorry for speeding, and I won’t ever do it again, that they would tell me not to worry about it and let me go on my way? Well, for the first ticket I got to take Defensive Driving, but that only works the first time. After that, I am responsible for paying some kind of fee for my transgression and, once I’ve paid, the ticket is still on my record.
Getting tickets really stinks, but beyond that we know that the “fine” we owe God for our sins is not just a few dollars! We owe full price – and there’s no defensive driving course to get that particular transgression off the record.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23
Are you prepared to pay the “wages of sin?”
I am not!
Thankfully, long before Adam and Eve sinned, Jesus had made a plan of what to do to pay the fine for you and me. And not just to pay the fine, but completely wipe it off the books as though we had never broken the rules in the first place.
Have you ever wondered how that whole substitutionary thing works?
“For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.” Romans 6:10
But what does that mean, exactly? I always pictured it like this: Jesus is standing in what looks like a courtroom. God is sitting in the judge’s seat. Satan is the prosecuting attorney and Jesus is the defense attorney. The bailiff angel calls your name and Satan stands up and begins to list all of the things you have done that qualify as sins. (It’s usually a very long list.) Before he gets too far, though, Jesus jumps up and objects. He tells the court that none of those infractions appear on your record.
Now it’s Satan’s turn to object. He insists that you have committed all those sins and that the wages of sin must be paid. You’re sentenced to death and blood must be shed. God agrees that since you have committed all those sins, you cannot be with Him in Heaven – being in His perfect presence would destroy you.
Just when you think your case is lost, Jesus steps forward again and announces to the court that since you accepted Him as your Defense Attorney, your record has been purged of all of your infractions. He has shed the blood that is required and posted it beside your name.
God smiles and strikes His gavel on the desk. Your case is dismissed; you’re free to go.
You are still reeling from the unexpected turn of events. You’re trying to wrap your mind around what just happened when you hear the bailiff call the next name. He also announces that this person has waived his right to the Defense Attorney. The person sitting next to you stands up, and Satan begins reading the list of laws that that person has broken, but you don’t hear any objection from Jesus. You look around and see Jesus sitting at His table with tears running down His cheeks. When Satan finishes his list, the courtroom is silent. Finally, God sadly brings down His gavel and announces that this person has chosen to pay his own fines for his own sins, and the fine for sin is death.
We believe that is what’s been going on the heavenly Sanctuary since 1844. When it is finished, then Jesus will come and take those who chose Him as their Defense Attorney into Heaven with Him. Those who did not chose Jesus stay out.
“Can I propose that Jesus began his public ministry the same way he ended it? He ended his ministry being crucified, covered with the sins of the world. He began his ministry being baptized, identifying volitionally with the sins of the world.
“Would you allow me a couple of minutes of silliness? Let me give you a vision of what could have happened that day. It expresses, as I see it, the implications of what is going on here. We’re standing around there, and we understand that big things like this have to be organized. We make a plan. One of us says, ‘When you decide to come and repent, folks, we want you to register. We’ll get your name down on a mailing list, and we’ll give you a name tag so that the baptizers can be more personal with you. Just step forward, and tell us your first name and your most awful sin.’
“Up to this table steps Bob. ‘Name?’
“‘What’s your most awful sin, Bob?’
“‘I stole some money from my boss once.’ The person takes a marker and writes, BOB: EMBEZZLER.
“Next person: ‘Name?’
“’Mary, what’s your most awful sin?’
“’I slandered some people. I said things that weren’t true. I just didn’t like them.’ So the person writes, MARY: SLANDERER.
“’What’s your most awful sin?’
“‘I’ve been coveting my neighbor’s Corvette.’ GEORGE: COVETER.
“’Gordon, your most awful sin?’
“‘Adultery.’ GORDON: ADULTERER.
“And the person writing, with some degree of gloating, slaps the name tag on the chest of each person. Then all these people, with their name tags and their most awful sins, line up by the river, waiting to be baptized in repentance.
“Up to the table comes Jesus. Jesus’ most awful sin? Well, there aren’t any. So Jesus starts walking down the line. He steps up to Bob and says, ‘Bob, give me your name tag,’ and he puts it on himself. ‘Mary, give me your name tag.’ He puts it on himself. ‘George, give me your name tag.’ It goes on himself. ‘Gordon, give me your name tag.’
“Soon the Son of God is covered with name tags and awful sins. Someone comes up and gently says to Jesus, ‘It’s a nice thing you’re doing. If you must do this, couldn’t you take off a few of the worst ones? If you’re going to spawn a messianic movement, you’ve got to be above reproach. Why don’t you take off the tag that says, MURDERER. Take the adulterer tag off, too. Those are too despicable. We’re talking about nines and tens here.’
“Jesus says, ‘You don’t realize that I am the Son of David. David had to wear those name tags, and I will not write him off, for I have forgiven him.’
“In my vision, I see Jesus going to the water to present himself to John. The Savior is baptized. At the risk of being trite, in my vision, the people who had the markers didn’t buy indelible ink. When Jesus comes up, all of the ink has been washed away and is going down the river. And I recall the words, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’
“That’s what repentance does. And that’s what Jesus’ ministry is all about. Without him, you and I are stuck.”1
- Gordon MacDonald, “Repentance,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 121 ↩