Our old teachers spoke often about “the vicarious atonement.” We got it, because they explained it. Churchy words such as, “justification” (to declare not guilty), or “redemption” (to be ransomed by the blood of Christ when we were held hostage by sin, death and hell), or “reconciliation” (that God made friends of us when we were His declared enemies) – these and countless other rich Bible words do not need to be dummied down to a vanilla vocabulary. They need to be treasured, and embraced, and explained, and passed on.
The “vicarious atonement” means Christ’s substitutionary satisfaction for our sins. It is the beating heart of the Bible, that Jesus is our Substitute.
All of these rich Bible words have pictures behind them. Behind the word “grace” (God’s undeserved love), is our Savior’s story of the prodigal son falling into the arms of his father. Behind the phrase “vicarious atonement” (this substitutionary satisfaction for our sins) we see basic Bible lessons.
In Genesis, the utterly contrite Judah proposes a great exchange, a substitution – himself for his brother Benjamin. Facing what he believes will be lifelong bondage and separation from his father Jacob, Judah says: “So please let your servant stay as a slave to my lord instead of the boy.”
When the children of Israel have defiled themselves, cavorting about the golden calf, Moses ascends the heights of Sinai to plead their case. Acknowledging their great sin, Moses begs God to forgive, and then offers himself in trade – “Please erase me from Your book which you have written.” God refuses the offer saying, “Whoever has sinned against Me is the one I will erase from My book.”
After the defeat of his rebellious son, Absalom, King David cries out to God: “Absalom, my son, my son! Would to God I had died for thee! Oh Absalom, my son, my son!” But he could not.
St. Paul grieved over his fellow Israelites’ rejection of the gospel: “I almost wish that I myself could be cursed and separated from Christ in place of my brothers,” he said. But he knew he couldn’t pay their penalty for them.
For so it stands written in the 49th psalm: “No one can by any means redeem himself – he cannot give God a ransom for himself…” No man can redeem himself, much less another…no mere man that is.
But there is One who is both God and Man in one Person, One who became our Brother, who did for us what Judah could not do for his brother Benjamin, what Moses could not do for the rebellious sons of Israel, what David could not do for his son Absalom, what Paul could not do for his unbelieving countrymen. In the One whom Scripture calls the Lion of the tribe of Judah, we meet the One who says: “Take Me instead!”, our Substitute of whom Paul spoke: “God made Him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”