Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
What we remember and celebrate of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is an incredible truth. In fact, it is a miraculous truth.
In the incarnation, Jesus, the second Person of the Godhead, becomes man and is “full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). He has made the God the Father known (Jn. 1:18). He is the God-man. Everything about Christ, his person and work, is “for us and for our salvation.” He is our representative and substitute. Jesus Christ is the lone mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).
There is much we know about the truth of the Person and work of the God-man, Jesus Christ. That he came to give his life as a ransom for many, and that he came to save human beings from their sin (1 Jn. 4:9-10), by bearing their curse (Rom. 8:3; Gal. 3:10-14) and granting his righteousness to those who in faith believe is true (2 Cor. 5:21). We know it because it because it has been revealed to us (cf. Matt. 16:17).
Even though we can say all of this with absolute confidence, there remains a mystery to the precise how of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and its implications to God (Eph. 2:3), propitiation, and to sinful, rebellious human beings, who are turned from those under God’s wrath to having sins forgiven (Col. 1:13-14) and adopted sons and daughters (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:4-7), expiation.
We speak what God speaks in the Scriptures. We speak with the assurance the Holy Spirit gives as an internal witness that enables us to call God Father and assures us he and his Word is true. But the mystery remains. We go as far as God’s revelation, both written in the Bible and inscribed in our hearts, and yet we go no further. There is much to the what, why and how of the atonement, and much of it is revealed. But when we have reached the depth of what we know of God’s revelation, there is more. A mystery remains. When we reach this point, we remain silent and worship.
I share the words of the inimitable C. H. Spurgeon from his sermon, “The Three Hours of Darkness" (Sermon 1896) (I delineated the paragraph to reflect the different aspects of truth he was espousing):
This darkness tells us all that the Passion is a great mystery into which we cannot pry.
I try to explain it as substitution and I feel that where the language of Scripture is explicit, I may and must be explicit, too. But yet I feel that the idea of substitution does not cover the whole of the matter and that no human conception can completely grasp the whole of the dread mystery. It was worked in darkness because the full, far-reaching meaning and result cannot be beheld of finite mind.
Tell me the death of the Lord Jesus was a grand example of self-sacrifice--I can see that and much more.
Tell me it was a wondrous obedience to the will of God--I can see that and much more.
Tell me it was the bearing of what ought to have been borne by myriads of sinners of the human race, as the chastisement of their sin--I can see that and found my best hope upon it. But do not tell me that this is all that is in the Cross! No, great as this would be, there is much more in our Redeemer's death.
God only knows the love of God--Christ only knows all that He accomplished when He bowed His head and gave up the ghost.
There are common mysteries of Nature into which it were irreverence to pry, but this is a Divine mystery before which we take our shoes off, for the place called Calvary is holy ground! God veiled the Cross in darkness-and in darkness much of its deeper meaning lies-not because God would not reveal it, but because we have not capacity enough to discern it all!
God was manifest in the flesh and in that human flesh He put away sin by His own Sacrifice-this we all know. But 'without controversy great is the mystery of godliness'.