The Work of the Trinity in the Sacrifice of Jesus – Holy Week #2

The crucifixion of Jesus as the sacrifice for sinners has led some to misunderstandings about the persons of the Trinity. Is Jesus an unwilling victim? Is the Father a purely wrathful and bloodthirsty God? And what in the world does the Holy Spirit have to do with Good Friday? Also, what about the nature of the sacrifice itself? Is it primarily a martyr’s sacrifice for humanity to model as the chief example of self-giving love or did Jesus’ sacrifice actually accomplish the salvation of sinners? Theologian Michael Horton clears up some of this in his recent systematic theology The Christian Faith:

“Throughout the Gospels and Epistles we discover references to redemption through ‘the blood of Christ’ (Mt 26:27-28 and parallels; Ac 20:28; 1 Co 11:25; 1 Pe 1:2, 19). As the only atoning sacrifice that truly avails in the heavenly courtroom it is not only sufficient but final…It is successful becuase of the superiority of the one who offers and is offered (Heb 1:1-2:18; 3:1-6; 4:14-5:10). ‘Where there is forgiveness of these [sins], there is no longer any offering for sin’ (Heb 10:18). While Christ’s sacrifice provides an example of self-giving love, it is a unique and unrepeatable event, bringing to an end all scapegoats, all bloody sacrifices, all substitutions, and all attempts to reconcile ourselves to God by our own efforts.

All three persons of the Trinity are involved in this sacrifice: the Father gives his only Son out of his love (Jn 3:16); the Spirit sustains the Son in his grief and vindicates him in his resurrection. The Son himself is not an unwilling victim of divine or human violence. Rather, Jesus, ‘for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Heb 12:2). He is a willing sacrifice (Jn 10:11, 18; cf. Mt 16:23; Lk 9:51; Jn 4:34; Heb 10:5-10), knowing that his suffering will lead to glory not only for him but for his people. And yet it is an agonizing struggle (Lk 12:50; Mk 10:38). Jesus sees it as a baptism (Lk 12:50). ‘He learned obedience through what he suffered,’ even with ‘loud cries and tears’ (Heb 5:7-10). Yet in spite of his grief, he determines, ‘Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’ (Jn 18:11). His obedience undoes Adam’s disobedience….

God’s simplicity resists our temptation to identify a single attribute, including love, as more definitive of God than others. God cannot exercise love and mercy at the expense  of his righteousness and justice. But this works in the other direction as well: God’s wrath is not arbitrary or capricious but is the necessary response to the violation of his justice, righteousness, holiness, and goodness. God is not essentially full of wrath, but is only stirred to anger in the presence of sin. God is not ‘bloodthristy,’ like the violent deities of ancient paganism. Rather, he is righteous, and his law requires that ‘the wages of sin is death…’ (Ro 6:23). ‘But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and th Prophets bear witness to it–the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.’ Although ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’ Paul adds, they are now ‘justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation…by his blood, to be received by faith’ (Ro 3:21-25.)” [(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 497, 499.]

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