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Greater love hath no man
June 1, 2009
By Pastor Paul Friberg, Berean Baptist Church, Glencoe

I grew up on the south side of Chicago and some of my favorite words were, “Today, we will have a substitute teacher,” to which the class would explode in cheers.

I don’t know about you, but when we had a “sub,” the day turned out to be much better. Usually, this meant that there was little to no class work and more free time. All that we had to do was be quiet and stay out of the substitute teacher’s hair.

This column is about a kind of “sub” called substitutionary atonement. These words describe how Christ gave up his life in order to satisfy God’s holy wrath for the sins of everyone – past, present and future. It is what Christ did for us on the cross.

A good illustration of this is in the movie, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” In this movie, Edmund eats his fill of the enchanted sweets, a gelatin-like candy called “Turkish Delight,” given to him by the White Witch.

Edmund’s greed and desire for more “Turkish Delight” clouds his vision of reality. It twists his mindset to believe that good is evil and evil is good. Instead of seeing the White Witch as an evil person, he convinces himself that Aslan is evil and the White Witch is actually good.

He is willing to betray his own brother and sisters. Therefore, the White Witch feels that Edmund is a traitor and belongs to her as a lawful prey. She also feels that she has the right to kill.

In the story, Edmund’s sister, Lucy, understands the gravity of the situation and asks Aslan, “Can anything be done to save Edmund?”

“All shall be done,” said Aslan. “But it may be harder than you think.”

This is where the “sub” comes in. The awe-inspiring Aslan – the great lion – willingly sacrifices his life to save another. During negotiation between Aslan and the White Witch, Aslan reveals that he is willing to take the place of Edmund. The White Witch sees this as an offer she cannot refuse, and agrees to trade the life of the Great Aslan for Edmund.

Centuries ago, Jesus took our place, becoming our substitute. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In John 15:13, it says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.”

So profound is the meaning of substitutionary atonement that scholars have struggled to explain its mystery. The Bible teaches that God loves us, but must uphold His perfect justice by punishing us for our sin. As part of His plan to redeem us, He sent His Son, Jesus, to become a member of the human race (John 1:18). Although He was sinless, Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, took our punishment on the cross. With sin’s penalty paid, He rose from the grave and offers forgiveness and eternal life to all.

Just knowing these facts, though, doesn’t mean that we are forgiven. We must admit that we’re helpless, lost sinners (Romans 3:23), turn from our sins, and personally reach out in faith to Christ and receive His offer of forgiveness. Then, He truly is our Savior, our substitute.

The parallels between the character named Aslan (the Lion-king) and the biblical accounts of Jesus Christ (Lion of Judah) are profound. Both knew the ultimate cost that would be involved in saving a friend.

Christ was described this way: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10.

It is an amazing thing to be willing to lay down your life for others, to be a substitute.

Have you received God’s free gift, given in Christ? The scriptures say: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12