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resolved: student ministries went to Camp Barakel for winter retreat two weekends ago. On the drive north Friday evening, it started to snow and it didn’t stop until a foot of fresh snow had fallen. It was a wet, heavy snow that knocked out power across the northeast Lower Pennisula. The storm caused camp to lose power early Saturday morning and that, in turn, caused our winter retreat to be cut short because they could not heat the cabins in the near zero temperatures. But in all of the chaos of a Michigan blizzard and the changing retreat plans, I stepped outside the back of the East Side dining hall and was confronted with a beautiful sight. Green pines and tall brown oaks were totally white. It looked as if every tree and its branches were not real trees, but were made completely of snow. An iPhone camera just does not do it justice.
The chills that went up my back were not from the cold. It was a powerful reminder of the gospel-pointing beauty of God’s snow in Isaiah 1.18: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Because of the blood Jesus shed on the cross, the guilt of the sins of God’s people is effectively cleansed. But not only that, as Alec Motyer comments, “the Lord’s promise is not only to deal with the stain of sin but with the nature from which it springs.” That’s why the picture above was simply a gospel-pointing reminder. The trees were still there under all that snow… they were covered, but they were still trees. But if anyone is in Christ Jesus, they are a new creations (2 Corinthians 5.17). Jesus didn’t just cover our sins, He gave us new life in Him. Oh the powerful blood of our glorious Savior! As winter gives way to spring, may we remember the new life that springs forth in those who are in Christ. The cold grip in which death once held us is broken. Though our sins were like scarlet, they are white as snow.
The cross is drifting from the center of our churches. The sermon is increasingly subjective and focused on self-improvement. The thought that “Christ suffered as a substitute, that God would desire such a thing, or that God is wrathful at all” is under attack. This not only describe churches, pastors and scholars outside Evangelicalism, but those even within our ranks. Opposed to the historic understanding of the atonement, they will agree that the cross stunningly displays God’s love, but “it is emphatically not his active judgment of sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ”. It seems, then, there is no better reason to have a book equipping pastors to display God’s glory to the nations through expositional preaching, dealing with the subject of substitutionary atonement. If God’s wrath against our sin and Christ’s bearing that wrath for us on the cross as our substitute is “the foundation and heart of our life together as a church”, we should see this theme clearly and deeply woven throughout the narrative of the entire Bible. It Is Well reveals the thread of penal substitutionary atonement not only to be biblical truth, but also as the foundation of redemptive history.
Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and president of 9Marks, and Michael Lawrence, associate pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, present 14 excellent expositions on crucial biblical texts that show Jesus Christ’s substitutionary atonement for sinners as a central theme of both the Old and New Testaments. Though there are “many images that the New Testament uses to talk about what Jesus accomplished on the cross,” says Dever, all the activity of the Old Testament “is pointing ahead to Christ as the ultimate atoning sacrifice.”
It Is Well begins in the Old Testament with Exodus 12 and the Passover, including expositions on Leviticus 16: “The Day Of Atonement” and Isaiah 52:13-53:12: “Crushed For Our Iniquities”. Eleven sermons from the New Testament follow: Mark 10:45: “Ransom For Many”; Mark 15:33-34: “Forsaken”; John 3:14-18: “To Save The World”; John 11:47-52: “Better That One Man Die”; Romans 3:21-26: “Propitiation”; Romans 4:25: “Delivered Over To Death For Our Sins”; Romans 5:8-10: “Justified By His Blood”; Romans 8:1-4: “Condemned Sin”; Galatians 3:10-13: “Becoming A Curse For Us”; 1 Peter 2:21-25: “Bore Our Sins In His Body On The Tree”; and 1 Peter 3:18: “Christ Died For Sins”. Many familiar with the current atonement debate will notice that these texts are the same passages taken up by both sides of the foray. Dever and Lawrence desire their sermons on these important texts to be “a supplement, a meditation, a path through the Bible to trace one of the deepest truths in God’s Word.”
This book is packed with solid exegesis and pastorally wise questions and applications. It Is Well excellently demonstrates what the finished product of the hard work of wrestling with the text looks like. Both men manifest for the reader right handling of the word of truth. They also exhibit the characteristics of good shepherds. They know their sheep and this knowledge impacts their study of the text. This leads to expositions that are not ethereal, but earthy with substantive questions and real applications. From “What happens when you have no substitute?” and “So what does this leave us to do (in regards to salvation)?” to “How could a holy God correctly love sinful men?” and “Did Jesus die for you?”, Dever and Lawrence use the questions that arise from the text to continually point back to the person and work of Christ thousands of years ago and to show how atonement applies to our lives in our time.
A worthy addition to the 9Marks series, It Is Well provides a practical resource demonstrating the importance and necessity of the exposition of the biblical text in the church and her pulpits. Far from being a mere collection of sermons, this work helps Christians realize the offense of sin before God and the greatness of Christ Jesus as Savior in both the Old and New Testament. Do not be put off that these chapters were first sermons for they do not read like manuscripts. Christ comes alive in both Testaments and the reader will find they are worshiping while reading! Dever and Lawrence show that not only is substitutionary atonement as old as the Passover, but Jesus himself taught it when telling about his mission and how God will redeem a people for His name and glory. It Is Well is a clarion call from the pages of Scripture for the church to go back to the heart of Christ’s work on the cross.
“Oh! Rejoice in the richness of our salvation! When the Lord pardoned our sins, he did not pardon half of them, and leave some of them on the book— but with one stroke of the pen he gave a full receipt for all our debts.
When we went down into the fountain filled with blood, and washed, we did not come up half-clean, but there was no spot nor wrinkle upon us—we were white as snow.”
~ Charles Spurgeon, “The Joy of Salvation”
There are many voices claiming to know the secret to being effective and fruitful. Out of all of the ones clamoring to be heard, I want to remember the voice of Peter. In 2 Peter 1:5-9, he writes, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”
The secret to being effective and fruitful is not some treasure waiting to be unearthed by the next great writer or preacher. It is not about Getting Things Done, becoming better organized, reading many books, getting more degrees, or unleashing my potential. Peter says that effectiveness and fruitfulness come from the qualities of virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love. These qualities protect us from becoming ineffective and unfruitful followers of Jesus.
But verse 9 is the key… if you lack these qualities, it is not because you do not try hard enough or do not have enough will power. It is because you have forgotten that your sins have been washed away by the blood of the cross. The first step in making these protective qualities a reality in your life is knowing that they have already been given to you by His power (verse 3) and never forgetting the cross (verse 9). The first step is a humble, thankful remembering of the cross.