Christ Bearing His People’s Sins
Sermon preached by J.K. Popham at Galeed, Brighton – 1910
“Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”
(1 Peter 2:24)
This most glorious doctrine of the atonement the apostle utters almost in the same breath in which he has set forth Christ as an example to suffering believers. They were not to be surprised that they suffered; they were not to be restive, and proud, and unsubmissive in and under their sufferings; and the reason for their submission to, their patient endurance of, suffering, to which they are exhorted, is that Christ has left them “an example,” that they should follow His steps; that He should be to them that great One who, though just, suffered for the unjust, and in that He was patient; “who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not,” but committed His persecutors as well as Himself unto God that judgeth righteously.
It were well for us in any case of suffering to have set before us from time to time, by the Spirit, so illustrious, so beautiful, so wonderful an example as here.
Suffering Christians, look not at second causes.
One says, “Look not at the stone that is flung at you, but at the hand which throws it.” That hand is God’s; that is, there is nothing done without Him. Job had no eye to the second causes for a time, in all his great sorrows; the One he saw was God: “The Lord gave” – that mostmen in the enjoyment of their possessions will readily own; but you, if you suffer loss, will need Job’s faith to say with him, “and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
And having set before them this great example of patient suffering, the apostle then goes on to enunciate the greatest doctrine that the Scripture reveals; namely, that God in our nature, Jesus Christ, suffered for our sins: “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” – the tree here being an outward sign of His inward, intense sufferings, sufferings beyond our conception as to their intensity and awfulness, and the terrible nature of them. For they were not merely what men inflicted, but above and beyond all that men inflicted, they were the sufferings set out by the prophet Isaiah when he says, “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief.”
Also by the prophet Zechariah, “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the Man that is My Fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the Shepherd.”
The Holy Spirit in this verse, then, sets before us first of all the Person of Christ; secondly, what He did: “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree”; and thirdly, the end He had in view, what He accomplished, and what is the result; namely, “that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes” – the stripes which His Father inflicted on Him – “ye were healed.”
I. We have, first, the Person of Christ, a real Man, very God, yet one Person.
A real Man born miraculously of the virgin; almighty God sighing human breath!
Sent forth by the Father, He having become in the covenant His Father’s Servant: “Behold My Servant.” The Father “in the fulness of time” sent Him forth, “made of a woman, made under the law.” And mind, it is of vital importance to notice this, that He was “made under the law,” else His Father could not have justly inflicted upon Him the curse of the law.
But He was made under it, subject to it; and God the Father laid with His own hand on His beloved Son in our nature all the sins of all the election of grace – a load intolerable to any other shoulder, and the curse due to all those sins – a death, indeed, that only Immanuel could endure.
We may believe many doctrines, but this of the Person of Christ, dear friends, is the first in importance. That believer whose faith is again and again drawn to, and gazes on the Person of Christ has somewhat of the hymn wrought in him:
“We first after Jesus reach,
And richly grasp the whole.”
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” In the fulness of time He sent Him forth; He was “manifested to take away our sins.” Whoso confesseth that Jesus is the Son of God, is born of God.
“This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
And what is that?
Why, to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. See if your faith more regards Him than many other things. See if you are more anxious to find whether you know Him than whether you have some comfortable feelings. Comfortable feelings are most beautiful and pleasant if they are rightly founded. See if you are more anxious to know the Person of Christ than anything else. If you can first reach after Him, you will find in Him everything that the soul can need in this life; namely, pardon of sins, justification, sanctification, strength, perseverance, wisdom and all good things; and hereafter, bliss.
It must be right to be after this most of all; for it has “pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell.” All the fulness of humanity in its pure state dwells in this blessed One; all the fulness of the Godhead dwells in this blessed One.
Look at this, dear friends; and may the Lord grant, whatever you are ignorant of, you may not be ignorant of this Person. You need His humanity – no salvation apart from that; you need His eternal Deity – no salvation without that.
The humanity is needed because we are men; who but a man could atone for men?
What nature could take the curse due to men but the same as their own?
So Christ is a real Man; as we are men, so is He; not only was He. He has been a Man ever since that wondrous day when His coming was gloriously announced, though His birth was so mean – announced by a multitude of the heavenly host, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
He only could be a Substitute for men who is a man. Were it possible that an angel could bear suffering in the place of another, it could only be for another angel.
Therefore whatever you do, you who are concerned, may this be set on your hearts by the Holy Ghost, to seek to know this very Man, the very Person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. What He did.
Here we have Him before us in a particular regard: “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.”
Why did He bear them?
First, because He loved the people. “Yea, He loved the people.” The greatest act of love that a man can show to another is to lay down his life for him. So says Christ, who makes no mis-statements, no mistakes:
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
What heart can conceive that flame of love that was in the almighty God, the second Person in the Trinity, the Son of God, who covenanted to become a Man, that He might die for the men given to Him by His Father before the world began?
“Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me.” Such was His love for them that although He knew it would cost Him a life of obedience, of death – death not so much by the hands of man as by His Father’s own sword – yet He withheld not, but said, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will, O My God.” It was a self-emptying love that our Lord Jesus had for His people: He “made Himself,” as Paul says to the Philippians, “of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant.”
O we love the brightness of the sun, but there is a shining glory in the love of Christ which, as it falls on the eye of faith, is brighter, inconceivably, infinitely brighter, attracts more, affects more deeply, and does more wonders, than ever the created sun, that so delights and refreshes us, can do. Men weep when they find this in their hearts, they wonder when they feel it, they dissolve under its power, they are delivered from sin by it, they love holiness under its influence, they follow God as it draws them, they are drawn with “the bands of love,” the love of Christ. We sing sometimes (would that we could all honestly say it):
“O love divine, how sweet thou art!
When shall I find my willing heart
All taken up by thee?”
You know, some of you, if you spoke the truth, you would not dare to say that before God tonight.
What did He do?
Bare our sins.
Because He loved us.
Why did He do it?
Because He would have those whom He loved with Himself.
But how could they be with Him?
They are not fit; in their birth they are sinners; in their lives they are sinners; they are not fit. No, but He said, “Therefore I will take all their unfitness away; it shall be no more theirs but Mine; I will take it on Me.”
And His Father said, “I will lay it on Thee,” and He took it; as you read in the Corinthians of the Father and the Son:
“He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin.”
The imputation of sin to Christ is the most mysterious act of God.
And therefore, one may say, the awakening of the sword of divine justice against Christ is not only mysterious, but it is most glorious.
Now you cannot properly, scripturally imagine that mercy in all its tenderness, and at the same time truth, pure, naked, eternal truth, should come to a sinner and bless a sinner without the intervention of the Mediator, or that a sinner should find not only peace, but righteousness, without any satisfaction made to the law.
This you cannot scripturally show, imagine or understand. But there is a Man in whom all these meet gloriously:
“Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” (Psalm 85:10-11)
O wondrous meeting-place, wondrous meeting!
God’s truth not threatening, God’s mercy for sinners, who deserve the truth of the threatening, revealed to sinners – these two meeting in the Man Christ Jesus!
Righteousness that must exact of the debtor the utmost farthing, and peace that never can smile on a rebel, these meeting in the Man Christ Jesus!
Perhaps one says, “But what is that to me?”
Well, sinner, it is this to thee, if thou art going to heaven, that through meeting in Christ they can meet in thy soul, can meet in thy conscience, can make thee a blessed creature, fit for God’s presence. I wish we all longed for God’s presence. It would argue that we knew something of Him, and that, too, in that Man Christ Jesus in whom His presence can be enjoyed in absolute consistency with holiness and righteousness.
“Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.”
That is why He did it, that sinners and God should come together; that mercy and truth, righteousness and peace, should meet together, and embrace each other, first in Him and then in them; that is, in their experience.
Look at what He did. He…
“Bore all incarnate God could bear,
With strength enough, but none to spare.”
Almighty God sighing!
Almighty God, a poor, broken-hearted Man, whom no man pitied, who looked for some to take pity, and found none; whose fury therefore upheld Him (Psalm 69:20; Isaiah 63:5).
He went through the great business. What was exacted of Him He rendered full payment of; what was due to sin He received into His heart and bosom – the execution of divine justice, the wrath and curse of the broken law.
And this because the Father put sin upon Him, had in a mysterious way “made Him to be sin for us.”
He did none. No guile was found in His mouth because there was none in His heart, none in His human nature, which was perfect.
Yet God the Father dealt with Him as if He were a sinner, as if He had done the things upon which God’s vengeance was poured, as if He had contracted the debts of unfulfilled commandments – dealt with Him as a sinner, and would have Him also work out a righteousness as if He needed it for His own justification.
Let this be the search of thy life, O sinner: did Jesus bear thy sins?
Better this than be searching the stars, and making investigations in the bowels of the earth, useful as that may be among men; better this than all other things, to search if the Lord will show thee the marvellous sight of His only-begotten Son bowed beneath the load of thy sins.
“His own self” – unassisted. Angels were not there to assist Him in this tremendous work, or minister to Him when He was faint. Angels ministered to Him in the wilderness and in Gethsemane, but He bore the load alone, and of the people there was none with Him. He trod the winepress alone.
What became of sin when Christ died?
We read He made an end of it, “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
This for our instruction is set out in type under the old dispensation (Leviticus 16).
Two goats were selected, one for the Lord for a sin-offering, and the other for the scapegoat. The scapegoat had the sins of the people confessed over his head, and then by a fit man was led into the wilderness, into a land not inhabited, not to be brought back. And it is written of the sins of the Lord’s Israel that they are “cast into the depths of the sea”; no one is able to bring them back in point of condemnation before God. That is to say, justice, infinite justice, is satisfied; law, exacting law, is amply satisfied; holiness, inflexible, is satisfied; fallen men, sinners, are rendered fit to be the guests of God.
That is what Jesus did with sin. And if the Holy Ghost causes you to believe and receive it, O sin-afflicted sinner, it will make heaven on earth, even in your heart. It will be such a heaven as no earthly misery can destroy for the time. It will make such peace in your conscience as no accusing devil for the time can disturb. Such is this great work of Christ. Sin is removed; it is made an end of.
Then it is declared that He brought in “everlasting righteousness”
(Daniel 9:24). We had a righteousness in creation which was not everlasting. In our natural head, Adam, we were put in the garden as free to stand and free to fall.
Human freedom God gave us, and we sold it for the forbidden fruit. We shall never get it back, except we get it in Jesus Christ, where it is immutable. All your talk about human freedom is nothing but a figment, a deception of your heart. You sold your freedom, gave it up; sold your birthright, and despised God’s goodness in it; and you will never get it back, I tell you, unless you get it back in Jesus Christ and in another fashion, by a divine gift of sovereign grace.
But when Christ takes away a man’s sin, He takes away all that legally binds him; and now the day is come when (to go back to another type, Leviticus 14:7) the poor creature, hitherto bound, shall have his pinions touched with blood, and be loosed, and shall fly free in the air, fly to his God by faith, and at last fly to heaven freed from the trammels of his sins, and all those evils which are in his members to affect and afflict him as long as he is here.
This brings me to:
III. The end Christ had in view when He bore our sins, suffered for our sins; namely, “That we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.”
Why, brethren, the death of Christ was vicarious; it was for others, and it was so for others that they should live, they must live.
O grace, how great, how effectual!
O grace, how thou didst bury all the sin of the church!
When Jesus Christ on Calvary’s accursed tree said, “It is finished,” heaven was pleased, Jesus was blest, no more under the curse; angels looked on, the Father was satisfied, the Spirit was satisfied, justice satisfied, holiness satisfied, mercy had free vent, love had made an opening through which she could flow as through a channel, a mighty river, into the hearts of sinners, making them live as it touched them (Ezekiel 47:9).
It is wonderful what this death of Jesus accomplished. Men live who see Him die; they are happy that see Him dying for them.
This river is a “river of water of life,” and is known to be that. Wilderness though you may feel to be, arid desert, deathy in your own gravelike, deathlike heart, this pure “river of water of life” will conquer your death. Ah, it was this death of Christ that opened the way to heaven for poor sinners.
Think of that closed up Garden of Eden, kept now by a flaming sword turning every way.
No way back by that!
As if the Lord said, “You have broken My law; I cannot think of permitting you to try to mend it.” That is not the way to please God. You may object, “That should not be said”; but why should it not? Why should I not say it? Say you, “Is it not right that a man should endeavour to keep the law?”
It depends upon why he tries to keep it. Suppose he should try to keep it in order to obtain eternal life. I say, if there be such a person here, that is the greatest act of rebellion you can ever be guilty of. Your best deeds with such a view are but high rebellion against the blessed God, whose glorious gospel declares that there is but one gate and way of eternal life.
“As Thou,” Christ says to His Father in John’s gospel, “as Thou hast given Him” (the Son of Man) “power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him.”
What, then, is the greatest act of obedience that a sinner can ever be enabled to, which shall most not only benefit him, but glorify God?
This, to “believe on Him whom He hath sent” (John 6:29).
The greatest stumblingblock our proud, haughty nature can have is that truth. No wonder one who was rich should go away offended. No wonder others should say, because His teaching was so contrary to nature, that He had a devil and was mad; for He went close to them, and quite crossed their best convictions, their highest ambitions, and all legal efforts, and said they were all nothing but rebellion against God.
The only way to life is this, that Jesus bore our sins in His own body on the tree.
Would that God would thoroughly gospel us by revealing this in our hearts with power!
It would take away (as to the dominion of it) that legal spirit that so barrenises us by setting us to work in order to obtain blessings in a way that God has not ordained to bestow them. He, “His own self bare our sins,” paid our debts, received into His heart the penalty due to us, “in His own body on the tree.”
Fix not your gaze on the tree, that literal tree, or on that transaction which was opened to the eyes of all within the place. Fix not your gaze there, and think not that any natural sympathy that may be excited in your minds by some recital of the crucifixion is of a spiritual kind. I can understand how people may almost hear the thud of that accursed tree, as it was dropped into the hole made for it. One can imagine the awful, the exquisite agony of that sacred body that was stretched upon it.
One can understand a sensitive nature weeping at the thought of an innocent and just Man being thus treated, and one can imagine that a person may weep thus who is at the same time dead in trespasses and sins. But may the Lord carry us through this external part, to see that awful pain of His soul, to perceive what His holy nature must have felt when it had sin lying on it, when the iniquities of His people met on Him; for so the word is in Isaiah 53:6, the Lord causing them “to meet on Him.”
May we see by faith how He sank, and what He felt when He said, “All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over Me”; when He said, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” If aught will make us weep with an evangelical repentance, make us weep bitter sweet tears before the Lord, it is the sight by faith of what Jesus Christ suffered in His soul for our sins.
Now let me again say, the greatest search you can ever be engaged in is to search whether this was for you.
Do not take it for granted.
The Spirit of God bears witness in the hearts of His people that the Son of God loved them and gave Himself for them; as says the apostle, He “loved me, and gave Himself for me.”
And the search of faith, the look of faith, faith’s exercise, labour and longing attended by love in the heart of a believer, will be this way: “O tell me, make me know that my iniquities met on Thee; that all the blackness, and guilt, and death of my sin Thou hast borne; that Thou didst take into Thy holy soul the dreadful curse due to me; that when the Father called upon the sword of inflexible justice that was made bright to be bathed in Thy blood, that then I was upon Thy heart, that my sins were there.”
That is the greatest thing you can be after. The Lord cause you to be after it. Religion is very easy, but this labour is very hard, yet it is attended with the most beautiful and wonderful results; for the Lord sooner or later says, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” “Canst thou not be happy without Me? I am thine, I am thy God.”
Dost thou need pardon?
“The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.”
Art thou a Peter?
The Lord will look and smile upon thee. Well, whatever a man is, if his heart be drawn this way, he will get all he wants; peace here, glory hereafter.
“That we, being dead to sins.”
How are we dead to sins?
Can you reckon yourselves to be dead to sins when they live in you, when often they seem to predominate, when some sins may, as you may feel, be paramount?
Can you in these cases reckon yourselves to be dead to them?
Yes, by faith; not otherwise. If you can say, “Now by His death I am freed; I am freed from the law; I am delivered from its curse; there is now no claim remaining on me; justice brings nothing against me,” that is being dead to sins in the gospel sense first of all.
And until faith receives assurance, there is no settled peace in the conscience. Put your foot, as it may seem to you, one day on the neck of some of your sins, keep your foot there for a few hours, and if you build a hope of heaven on that, you will find very likely that those very sins have, ere you were aware, wriggled from under your foot, serpent-like, and are round your neck threatening your life. He who builds a hope of heaven on anything short of the death of Christ will find that his hope, even if it has some things of a right nature, has got some things about it, and has acted in some way, that will not be honoured of God.
But then there is a being dead to sins experimentally, pleasantly, and very sweetly, as when one can say, “Now I am crucified to the world by the cross of Christ, and by it the world is crucified to me,” when he can really say,
“Let worldly minds the world pursue,
It has no charms for me;
Once I admired its trifles too,
But grace has set me free!”
Hence the apostle says, “Our conversation” – not our lip talk, but our whole life and course – “is in heaven.”
Why is it there?
Because our Friend, our Redeemer is there. Our God, our Lord, the Object of our
faith, He whom we worship, He on whom love fixes itself, about whom faith entwines itself, into whom hope casts an anchor, He is there. Hence people can say today, sometimes, what David said in his day and of himself:
“Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.”
“That we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.”
It is as if He should say, and indeed He did say it to the Romans, that we should live unto God. To live unto God is to have Him for our great end. There are many ends that men have, but there is one ultimate end that God gives His saints. It is proper we should have various ends. Nothing is more proper than that the husband’s end should be the happiness and well-being of his wife and family; and the wife’s end, the comfort of her husband. Nothing is more proper for a child (and do listen to me, children) than that he should honour and obey his parents. These ends, and others, we ought to have; the Scripture enjoins them. It is a shame for a professor to talk of religion without having these in some measure before him.
But there is an end beyond them all, a blessed end. God is that end, that we should live unto Him. You can live unto God when you are eating your bread, if you have grace; you are taught to do it:
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
(1 Corinthians 10:31)
“For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself…. Whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.”
If we half believed it, we should often be different persons from what we are, as to our conduct.
“By whose stripes ye were healed.”
Have you been sore?
Are you sore?
Did you ever know that scripture, “My sore ran in the night, and ceased not”; or that scripture, “O Lord, heal me, for my bones are vexed”?
“I have sinned.”
When did you sin?
“When did I not sin?” you may say.
When did you sin?
When you thought that foolish thought, when you uttered that idle word, cast that unlawful look.
When did you sin?
When you knelt down, and your eyes were about your house or planting your garden or in your business, then you sinned.
When you did lawful things, but did them improperly.
If you say, “I have sinned,” the Lord looks for such as you; He looks for people who confess their sins, they are so few – few in this chapel perhaps. They are so scarce and rare in these days. “If any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not,” then He will say, “Deliver him … I have found a ransom.” So may the Lord heal us.
“By whose stripes,” sufferings, sorrow, grief, shame, death, “by whose stripes ye were healed.”
And how are we healed?
O, when the blood is on your conscience, you have not a sore left, not a sore.
What about the idle words, the evil thought, the unlawful look?
The guilt is gone.
How sweet this is!
“I am sorry,” the sinner says; “I am more sorry now I am forgiven than I ever was before.”
Everyone knows that who knows what pardon is. Everyone who knows what pardon is can say he loves this repentance.
“By whose stripes ye were healed.”
Now may the Lord heal you who are sore and sick by these wondrous stripes of Jesus Christ; and should He do it, then you would say, “Now, Lord, if shame is on my name, if persecution is my lot, if trouble comes to me in my circumstances, do grant I may follow Thy steps, who hast set me an example of patient suffering.”