My Mom taught me a lot of things and showed me a ton of grace through the years, but one particular moment that has been seared into my mind is when she showed me substitutionary atonement. Now all analogies and metaphors break down so what follows is not perfectly analogous to the central Christian teaching of Jesus dying in the place of sinners–but it does point to it.
I do not remember what I was being disciplined for. Most likely it was either cheating on an assignment (which I did a lot of) at the local Christian school that I attended or just good old fashioned rebellion; regardless, I deserved a spanking. I knew that I deserved it, yet after discussing what I had done wrong, as I was preparing to receive a few swats, shockingly, my Mom handed the stick to me and offered to take my place and the punishment I deserved upon herself.
I do not remember what was said, but if memory serves me right I do remember breaking at that point and beginning to cry. After all, I was the one who deserved the punishment for my disobedience–she did not. Yet in grace she offered to take my place. It was indeed a powerful picture of substitutionary love on display for any young boy.
Now, I did not go through with it and I don’t think any spanking was given that day. And here is the point where the analogy breaks down. God cannot just let sin sit. Sin must be judged. He must deal with it according to who he is–holy, righteous, and just. Charles Spurgeon put it this way:
“The God of Scripture is one who is inflexibly severe in justice, and will by no means clear the guilty. ‘The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power; and will not at all acquit the wicked.’ The God of Scripture is a ruler, who, when his subjects rebel, marks their crime, and never forgives them until he has punished it, either upon them, or upon their substitute.” (“Substitution”, No. 141, The Charles H. Spurgeon Library Version 1 (AGES Digital Software), 460)
And God did not, unlike my Mom, just offer to be the substitute for sin, but in the person of Jesus Christ, the God-man, he became the substitute for sinners. The apostle Paul writes,
“For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
In that wonderful moment with my Mom her actions showed me two of the most important truths one can know: 1. Sin is serious and deserves the judgment of God; 2. God is not only just but gracious, and lovingly sends his Son Jesus to substitute himself for any sinner who would trust Jesus.
In this the day after mother’s day, thanks to my Mom for helping me see gospel truth. Her actions pointed me to the beauty of substitutionary atonement that Spurgeon describes where: “the sinner is treated as if he were Christ, and Christ is treated as if he were the sinner” (Ibid., 465).
I love you Mom. Thanks for showing me Jesus.