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How can Sinful Man be Redeemed?
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Unsearchable Riches of Christ.” The sermon was preached at Westminster Chapel, London, in 1956 and first published in 1979 and reprinted in 2004.
Think for a moment of the amazing way in which God has solved the problem by sin. It is here we see the wisdom of God. What the Apostle is saying here in a sense concerns---and I say it with reverence---the greatest problem that has ever confronted God. That is why salvation is the greatest manifestation of the wisdom of God. It was not difficult for God to create the light and the sun; all He said was, `Let there be light' and `there was light'. Look at the great mountains; they are nothing to God! The nations are like `a drop of a bucket' and `the small dust of the balance'. To send a pestilence, to cause an earthquake, is nothing to God. Such things to Him are no problem. Here is the problem---man in sin! I say with reverence, here was the greatest problem God ever had faced or ever will face; there is nothing beyond this! So the greatest wisdom is needed to solve this problem. Anyone who thinks that the salvation of man was a simple matter for God is simply proclaiming that he does not know either the Old Testament or the New Testament. If you imagine that forgiveness is a simple matter for God, and that because God is love He simply has to say, `Very well, I will forgive you' you might as well burn your Bible. The forgiveness of sins, I dare to say, taxed even the wisdom of God. At any rate I am certain when I say that the angels could see no way through this problem. That is why they are surprised when they see what God has done about it. They knew that some of their fellows had sinned and had been cast down and reserved in chains in hell by God, as Peter tells us in the second chapter of his second Epistle. Then also they saw the fall of Adam and Eve. But they could not imagine what God could do about this. They saw no way through the problem. The problem of the salvation of man, the salvation of a single soul, the forgiveness of sins, is the most profound problem that has ever arisen or can ever arise in the whole of the universe, and even for God Himself.
The essence of the problem lies in the fact that God is not only love, but also just, and righteous and holy. `God is the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning', and He cannot deny Himself. Eternally He is ever the same; in His perfection there is never any shadow of contradiction. Hence the problem raised by sin. If God is to forgive sin He must do so in a manner that not only manifests His love, but equally manifests His justice, His righteousness, His holiness, His truth, His eternal glory, and His unchangeableness. Is this possible? Must not the love of God inevitably come into conflict with His justice? Can His mercy be made compatible with His righteousness? Such is the problem; and the central glory of the gospel is that it is the revelation of how the eternal wisdom of God solved this problem.
In the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans we find all this stated perfectly and in most glorious fashion by this same Apostle. The problem is: How can `God be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus'? How can God justify the covering over of the sins of the children of Israel under the Old Testament? God gave the law; in exercising forgiveness is He not putting the law on one side? No, says Paul, He is establishing the law! In the way of salvation that He has devised He is not making the law void, He is establishing it. How can God at one and the same time carry out the law and forgive the sinner? God has found the way; He has reconciled His own love and justice and mercy and compassion. They are all one, and are to be seen shining gloriously together. The Psalmist who wrote the 85th Psalm (v. 10) had had a preview of this. He did not understand it, but he said, `Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other'.
0, loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.
Do you see that nothing but the eternal wisdom of God could have enabled him to do this and yet to remain God, unchanged and shining in every direction with the same glory and the same perfection? I know of nothing more thrilling than to contemplate that mystery. We rob God of His glory if we imagine that forgiveness and salvation are simple and easy. They constituted a problem in the mind of the eternal. They baffled angels. It was God alone who could solve the problem.
That was the problem seen as a whole, but now let us look at it in detail. In order to solve the problem God sent His own Son into the world. How can fallen humanity be redeemed? God said: `I will send my Son down into the world of sin and shame. He will take humanity unto Himself, and He will raise it up. Who could have thought of such a thing? Who could have imagined such a thing? The angels never imagined that the Second Person in the blessed Holy Trinity, who was substance of the eternal substance, the only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father, would humble Himself and be born as a babe in Bethlehem and live as a man. And when they saw it they were amazed at it. Here they saw the wisdom of God manifesting itself in facets and angles that had never entered into their minds. Then they watched the Son living as a man amongst men, `made under the law', and giving perfect obedience to it. Can we imagine their thoughts and their feelings as they saw Him who was the brightness and effulgence of the Father's glory working as a carpenter in His father's workshop in Nazareth.
Again, look at another aspect of this amazing wisdom. The Father did not send His Son to be born in a king's palace, but in a stable. Oh! the wisdom of God! Who could ever have expected such a thing? But we can see the purpose shining through it all. If He had not so come into poverty and need and in lowliness, He could not have raised the lowest. We, in our wisdom, would have acted in a very spectacular manner, would we not? But God acts in this essentially simple manner through a helpless Babe and all that followed from it.
And yet again, when the angels saw Him on the Cross they must have been perplexed as to what was happening. This seemed to be the hour of triumph of hell and of the devil and the world at its worst. But it was not so. What was happening there, says Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians, chapter 2, is that on the Cross, and by dying there, our Lord was putting all the forces that were against Him `to an open shame, triumphing over them in it'. God was using them and their cleverness to bring His own great and glorious purposes to pass; for at the Cross God was making His own Son to be our Sin-bearer. He was putting our sins upon Him and dealing with them. He was punishing them; so God remains just and righteous because the sin is punished and the law is fulfilled. Our Lord had kept the law perfectly, and on the tree He was bearing its penalty for us. The law was honoured in every particular, and Christ was establishing it. But at the same time God was opening a way of forgiveness for our sins. That is God's wisdom.
Thus we can go on working it out in every detail, and in doing so we shall understand increasingly what the Apostle had in his mind when in writing his First Epistle to Timothy he says: `Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory' (3: 16). We have been expounding the meaning of the phrase `seen of angels'. They were watching all this, and they were amazed and astonished as they did so. But they realized that this is the wisdom of God which they thought they knew. [87-90]
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