Substitution – the Great, the Good and the Ungodly – I Peter 2:21-25


I read about the death of Michael Costello in a book of contemporary sermon illustrations. According to the Chicago Tribune, Michael was a parachute instructor. Although the article didn’t say, I’m going to assume he was the owner or manager of a company which taught recreational skydiving. On June 22, 1997, Michael took a novice skydiver – Gareth Griffith – up to an elevation of 22,000 feet. Then they both jumped. After soaring downward for a few moments, as instructed, Griffith pulled the rip cord, but nothing happened. Costello then pointed to the secondary chute, but again nothing happened when that cord was pulled. Plummeting toward the ground, it looked like certain death for the first-time parachutist. At that point there was no time for Costello do much to save both the student and himself. But then, according to the Tribune, the instructor did something astonishing. Just before hitting the ground, Michael pulled in front of his pupil and rolled over, cushioning Griffith for the moment of impact. The student survived, but the teacher did not – dying instantly.

The editor of the book suggested that the sacrifice of that skydiving teacher is an illustration of salvation. And in several ways it might be. He substituted himself for his student. Just as Christ took the impact of God’s justice for our sins, dying on the cross. And because of His sacrifice and substitute, we can walk away without injury.

While perhaps conveying a nice story, there are some flaws in the application of the lesson. For example, the failure of the parachutes was probably due to someone in the school – not the student. But there was no fault whatsoever in Christ, our sacrifice, our Saviour. And then, even though Griffeth probably learned his lesson and never tried skydiving again, he was still the same man ten years later – and now thirty years later. But through the vicarious sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, those whom HE saves are new creatures with spiritual life where only death existed before.

There can never be a perfect illustration for the infinite grace which has saved us. I think he intent of the story-teller was honorable. But I’d like to use his inaccuracy as an introduction into another Christian mistake when it comes to the subject of Biblical substitutes Let’s think about three varieties of substitution: CHRIST for us, US for Christ and OTHERS for us.

Christ, the Son of God, took the place of His elect, for the purpose of delivering them from sin.

This is without doubt one of the greatest subjects in all the word of God. We see it in the early chapters of Genesis, and it echos from there well into the Book of the Revelation. God said to Adam, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” But Adam DID eat in an ignorant act of rebellion, and he spiritually died – but physically his death was not immediate. Then God took one of the innocent animals of the garden, killing it and shedding its blood, after which He took its skin and covered the naked sinner.

Later, Adam taught his children that blood sacrifices were a necessary substitution for their sins. His son “Abel, he … brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering.” Abel taught his children about the necessity of substitutionary sacrifices, and they taught their children. Noah practiced vicarious sacrifices, and so did Abraham. After several generations, God incorporated sacrifices into the laws of Israel. Vicarious sacrifices have been a part of the religion and worship of God’s people from the beginning of the nation of Israel until the days of the Lord Jesus Christ. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” “Vicarious” refers to a substitute.

The Bible tells us, “the wages of sin is death” and “the soul that sinneth it shall die.” This is God’s law, and it is far more unalterable than the law of gravity or anything in mathematics. God, as Judge, would be unjust if He did not impose the death penalty upon all sinners. And that would be all of us, “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” But that same God and Judge has provided a means of escape, whereby He can remain just and at the same time justify and deliver the sinner. That divine means is seen in the principle of the substitutionary sacrifice. At first, by way of illustration, innocent animals took the place of the sinner – and died. But then “when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

Christ Jesus, the Son of God – without sin in Himself, because of His divine nature – took the place in death of those He intended to save. He was as “a lamb without blemish and without spot”I Peter 1:19. He did not sin – (I Peter 2:22); “Certainly this was a righteous man” – Luke 23:47. He “came… to give his life a ransom for many” Matthew 20:28. He “came that (His chosen sheep) might have life” John 10:10.

God, the righteous Judge, accepted the sacrifice of His only begotten son, and “laid upon Him the iniquity of us all” Isaiah 53:6. “He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him”II Corinthians 5:21. He “bare our sins in His own body on the tree –or cross” – I Peter. 2:24. “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.”

Biblical theologians call this “the vicarious death of Christ on the cross.” When the Son of God willingly permitted Himself to be nailed to the cross, it was with the intent of substituting Himself for those He came to save. He was put to death in the place of specific sinners in order to satisfy God’s law on their behalf – the law which demands “the soul that sinneth it shall die.” When Christ died, the death sentence which was against so many of us, was met by Him. Those whom God intended to deliver from the law were executed in the Person of Christthey died. And from henceforth those saved souls cannot be condemned. The penalty has been paid by the substitute, and that repenting believer is now dead in the sight of the law, but eternally alive in the life of his Saviour.

This is the gist of salvation: this is the means of the sinner’s deliverance. The grace of God has provided a way for wicked souls to be rescued – it was in the vicarious death of the Son of God for us. That is one of the most important doctrines of the Word of God. And it is certainly the greatest doctrine of substitution which we find in the Bible, BUT there are MORE.

There is the substitution which WE are to make for Christ – a perfectly good variety of substitution.

I am going to assume that you have understood what I’ve said to this point. I am praying that you have accepted and believed what I have just explained, even though I didn’t go into a great deal of detail. So you are a child of God by faith in Christ Jesus; you have been born again; redeemed. How did you first hear about your need of the New Birth? How did you learn about the sacrifice of Christ? Ninety-eight percent of you heard the gospel through some human instrument – the lips of some person. Even if you were saved by reading a tract or reading the Bible, there were people involved in writing those tracts and printing those Bibles and other materials. And herein lays our second substitution for the morning.

Earlier, we read from Matthew 25 about the man with the three servants. To each of those servants the man gave certain responsibilities and resources before beginning a long journey. But then “after a long time the lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them.” In that parable the Lord Jesus describes the nature of the Christian ministry – the Christian life. The Lord Jesus became a vicarious sacrifice, purchasing us out of the slave market of sin in order that we become His loving and willing servants. He then enabled us, endowed us, and employed us to represent Him during the rest of our earthly lives. Christ, our Redeemer, now sits at the right hand of God the Father, awaiting the conclusion of all things. And if you’d permit me this intellectual liberty We have become HIS substitutes here on earth.

Saul of Tarsus is a great example of God’s saving grace, and what should follow a person’s conversion. After he was saved, God told the man who was sent to baptize and encourage him “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:” Saul became “Paul the Apostle,” and we see him representing Christ before the eyes of the world. Paul was a fallible, human substitute for Christ – as all of us ought to be.

Jesus is described in John 10 as “the Good Shepherd.” “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish.” And what did Jesus say to Peter eleven chapters later in the last book in John, “Feed my sheep.” Christ has left Paul, Peter, you and me, to represent Him – we are His temporary substitutes.

In I Peter 4 the Apostle says, “The end of all things is at hand; be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” Then he lists several things about which we should be diligent – especially in these last days. Have fervent charity…use hospitality, minister the gifts you have received “as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” He says, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Going on, Peter says that trials and persecutions are not unexpected. “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” In the midst of much more, Peter leaves us with the impression, we represent our Saviour in these things.

Paul told the Corinthians in chapter 3, “We are labourers together with God.” May we never forget that we represent our Saviour in this world. By the grace and command of God, we are substitutes for the Son of God. And that is true whether or not we consciously consider the great privilege involved. When we are on the job, we are vicars for Christ. When we are with a few friends or we are among a number of acquaintances, we are His substitutes. I represent the Saviour in the pulpit, but if you are a Christian you represent Him where you sit. When we go to the store, we go in Christ’s name – we should bear His uniform. We are His substitutes while at the park, and in the doctor’s office, and driving down I-90. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

Hypothetically, if Jesus had sinned or in some other way failed to fulfill the divine covenant, he could not have been our Saviour. If Christ had taken His own life, for example, could His shed blood have saved us? Absolutely not. Every detail of that sacrificial death had to be perfect in order to accomplish God’s plan. And similarly, God is not glorified when WE fail to be the best representatives possible. Each Christian, you and I, are temporary substitutes for Christ upon earth.

Now, let me move to one more vicarious substitution.

As I’ve suggested, you and I can and ought be the Lord’s representatives before our neighbors. We should try to go above and beyond in our service of the people around us, whether or not it is considered to be Christian service. Yes, we should try to speak of our faith in Christ, but we should also live our Christian life. We should employ those things which Peter mentioned a few minutes ago – hospitality, charity and sharing the gifts which we have been given. We can touch our neighbors and relatives representing the fingers of our Lord.

But what about those in need on the other side of globe? What can we do for them? Extending my subject, we can send substitutes on our behalf. I would like to go to Australia some day to visit and to preach the gospel, but it is unlikely that will ever happen. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to visit Irkutsk and to encourage the brethren on the shores of Lake Baikal? But even if we made that trip, our service would be limited because of language barriers.

But we can support, encourage and strengthen men as our representatives – our substitutes. We can send of our wealth to help missionaries and their people. We can read with interest their reports and prayer requests. We can spend some of our valuable time in prayer beseeching God to shower His grace down on others.

The Bible tells us that Christ Jesus is at this time our mediator, interceding for us. You might say that He is in prayer for us before the Father; and there is the Holy Spirit as well. Is the Lord unaware of you and your needs; is He unconcerned about your trials and problems? Doesn’t the Lord sometime intervene and send His blessings on us as we attempt to represent His name? Now, I know I’m in danger of sacrilege or some other sin at this point, but sanctify this thought with me. Isn’t there a sense in which we can do the same for the substitutes we have sent to work among the Choctaws, the Incas and the Aborigines? As we are Christ’s representatives in this place, we have people representing us elsewhere. And in a sense, our responsibilities towards them reflect the Lord’s interest and care of us. But when it comes to our substitutes across town or elsewhere in the world, we must be careful.

There are hundreds of heretical substitutes when it comes to salvation from sin. How many millions of people look to baptism as some sort of sacrifice for the saving of their souls? How many pretend that red wine is the blood of Christ and that drinking that wine washes away sin? Millions of people put their trust in the wrong substitute. How many people look to their priests or the saints as the means of forgiveness of sin? Millions more try to substitute their own righteousness or good works for the sacrifice of blood which God requires. For every soul who trusts the vicarious sacrifice of Christ there are a hundred others who look to some other source of salvation. And all of those false faiths mean spiritual and eternal death.

Similarly, there are Christians who look to substitutes when God has asked them to serve Him. They are like some wealthy men during the Civil War who hired others to represent them on the battlefield. For example, many Christians, use their support of missions as the fulfilment of their orders to evangelize the world. They would much rather put $20 in the offering than to speak to their co-worker about the Lord. They rejoice to hear that their missionary has had a few to baptize, but they aren’t disturbed that none have been baptized at home. They have made an improper substitution. God doesn’t recognize that switch.

Thousands of otherwise good Christians use their pastors as substitute Bibles and Bible studies. The only message they hear from the Lord comes on Sunday morning at 11 o’clock. They attend church periodically and say to themselves they have heard enough of the voice of God. They don’t see the need to read the Bible for themselves; they don’t prepare for Sunday School. And when it comes to doctrine, they play the same kind of substitution game. “It isn’t necessary that I understand and believe the doctrines of my church. That is why we have hired the pastor; I’ll let him do it for me.”

Each morning, I send out a devotional thought from Spurgeon, hoping they are a blessing to someone. I have to wonder however, if that is the extent of the spiritual devotions that some have. Are there saints relying on a Facebook “friend” for their daily brush with God? Maybe their daily time with God comes through someone’s “tweet” to them on their phone. As helpful as it might be, that is not a good substitute for direct meditation on the Words of God.

Some call the morning song service one of the “worship services” of their church. They sit immersed in the sound of the piano and the voices of others, thinking they are worshiping God. But even if they sing the hymns selected, and many do not, they aren’t really paying attention. They aren’t trying to employ the words and heart of the poet as a means of fellowship with the Lord. This is one reason why we need to learn and sing new hymns – to keep our hearts engaged. It is sin to hire a dead hymn-writer to worship God on our behalf – that kind of substitution is wicked.

I fear that the more Biblical the church – the older and stronger the church – the more unwarranted substitutions we might try to employ. Some saints might substitute history for present day reality. “In the past we did such and such; In the past I did this or that.” Some even substitute future history for current reality – piously sitting on their hands awaiting the return of the Saviour.

I have been meditating on the church in Thessalonica this week, and it has stirred my heart this week. Those were young, persecuted Christians, who risked their lives to serve the Saviour. There were no mercenaries, hirelings or substitutes among them. Paul said to them, “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: So that ye were (personal) ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad.” They were actively serving “the living and true God.” And, not passively but actively waiting “his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”

Those Thessalonian Christians along with you and me, became children of God through the vicarious sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. And one of the Lord’s purposes in that transaction was that we represent Him during our few years on this earth. It is something we must do personally and directly. For our service substitutes are only rarely accepted – as in the case of a missionary.

My friends, these are the last days. It is time for us to be involved. But if you find that you have little or no interest in the work of Christ, then ask yourself this question “Am I sure – really sure – that Christ died for me – that I have been redeemed?” This is where it all begins – this where real life begins – at our spiritual birth.