“In the order of being, the sacrifice of Christ came first” by Donald Macleod

“The evidence that Jesus and His apostles understood the cross in terms of sacrifice is overwhelming. There is something deeper here, however, than the struggle of bewildered disciples to find concepts by which to explain the tragedy which had overtaken their master.

It was not human ingenuity that discovered in the Old Testament sacrifices an interpretative framework for the cross. On the contrary, God Himself had provided that framework.

In the order of knowing, the Levitical sacrifices came before the sacrifice of Calvary; but in the order of being, the sacrifice of Christ came first.

He was the Lamb ordained before the foundation of the world, and the Levitical system was but His shadow. We need to be careful here.

Christ was not a priest only metaphorically. He was the true priest, and His sacrifice the real sacrifice.

It was the Aaronic priesthood that was figurative, and its sacrifices that were metaphorical. Just as Jesus was ‘the Root of David’ (Rev. 5:5), so He was the root of the Passover, the sin offering and the scapegoat, all of which were divinely configured to prefigure Him.

The understanding of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice is not a human convention, but a divine revelation.”

–Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 65.

“Between two thieves” by Donald Macleod

“A second detail recorded by both Matthew and Mark is that Jesus was crucified between two other criminals, one on His right and one on His left. The same fact is recorded by Luke though with slightly different wording. All three accounts stress the word ‘with’; they were crucified along with Jesus.

The Scripture referred to is Isaiah 53:12, and this verse is certainly quoted by Jesus Himself just before He goes to Gethsemane: ‘It is written, ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in Me. Yes, what is written about Me is reaching its fulfillment’ (Luke 22:37).

There is no doubt about the authenticity of this passage, nor about the authenticity of the original words of Isaiah, and we must take them with complete seriousness. The truth they point to, Jesus’ solidarity with sinners, did not begin at the cross; it had been a fact throughout His life.

He had made Himself notorious as the friend of tax collectors and sinners and repeatedly allowed Himself to be compromised by associating with people of dubious reputation. But here at the cross the solidarity climaxes.

He is not merely among His two co-accused. He is together with them; and He is together with them specifically in their character as transgressors and criminals.

The full force of this is brought out in the original wording of Isaiah: He was numbered with the transgressors ‘for he bore the sins of many.’ It is not a matter of mere association or even, ultimately, of mere solidarity, as if He were just taking the position of a sinless one forced to endure the company of sinners.

He identifies completely. He lets Himself be reckoned as a sinner, and dealt with as a sinner; and not only by men, but by God. He has come to redeem sinners, but the way He will redeem them is by taking their sins as His own and becoming accursed in their place (Gal. 3:13).

By hanging Him in the middle, wrote Calvin, ‘they gave Him first place as though He were the thieves’ leader.’ Luther, ever more graphic, put it even more strongly: ‘He bore the person of a sinner and of a thief– and not of one but of all sinners and thieves… And all the prophets saw this, that Christ was to become the greatest thief, murderer, adulterer, robber, desecrator, blasphemer, etc., that has ever been anywhere in the world.’

Here, on the cross, He not only bears, but is (2 Cor. 5:21) the sin of the world; and so here, in solemn divine equity, the sword falls.”

–Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 38-39.

“Here, human justice condemns itself” by Donald Macleod

“Jesus was acquitted by the same lips as condemned Him: ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man,’ (Luke 23:4).

Here, human justice condemns itself. The criminal is on the bench, not in the dock, just as in the person of Caiaphas the blasphemer is the one at the altar, not the One on the cross.

The judge acquits the prisoner, and then sentences Him to be flogged and crucified.”

–Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 32.

“Slow motion” by Donald Macleod

“When it comes to Good Friday the Gospels go into slow motion. They have passed over in silence whole decades of Jesus’ life, and even when they pick up the threads of the public ministry there are weeks and months of which they say nothing.

But when it comes to the crucifixion we have the sequence frame by frame; almost, indeed, an hourly bulletin. The crucifixion narrative goes into slow motion.

It is the pivot on which the world’s redemption turns, and it involves such a sequence of separate events that we assume, instinctively, that they must have occupied several days. Instead we find to our astonishment that they all occurred on one day; and the events of that one single day are reported in meticulous detail.

Our printed Bibles do not, unfortunately, highlight the significance of Mark 14:17, where the evangelist introduces his account of the Last Supper with the words, ‘when evening came’. Unpretentious though they sound, they are momentous.

The Jewish day began with the sunset, and this ‘evening’ marks the beginning of Good Friday. Fifteen hours later, Jesus would be crucified, but these intervening hours would themselves be crammed with drama: the Last Supper, Gethsemane, the betrayal, the arrest and the trial; then the crucifixion, followed by the entombment.

From the Last Supper to His burial, a mere twenty-four hours; and so detailed is the account of His last few hours that we know exactly what happened at 9 o’clock in the morning (the third hour), at midday (the sixth hour) and at 3 o’clock (the ninth hour).

Against the background of the previous indifference to chronology, such detail is remarkable, and serves to underline once again the evangelists’ concentration on Jesus’ death.”

–Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 22-23.

“Theology has lost its way” by Donald Macleod

“Theology has lost its way, and indeed its very soul, if it cannot say with John, ‘When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead’ (Rev. 1:17).”

—Donald Macleod, Behold Your God (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 1995), 52.

“He saved us from alongside us” by Donald Macleod

“One final point may be made in connection with the humanity of Christ: He came into, and shared, our environment. This too, is made plain in John 1:14. He dwelt among us.

This involved the most complete sharing of our experiences on the part of the Son of God, accentuated by the fact that He chose not simply to be born, but to be born in a low condition. Hence the ‘low estate’ of His mother (Luke 1:48).

Hence the manger. Hence the flight into Egypt. Hence Nazareth. Hence the homelessness (Matthew 8:20). Hence the penury which has no money to pay the temple tax (Matthew 17:24) and no place to celebrate the Passover.

Hence the reputed lack of learning and the scorn of the rulers (John 7:48). Hence the notoriety gained through friendship with publicans and sinners.

For the Son of God, the incarnation meant a whole new set of relationships: with His father and mother; with His brothers and sisters; with His disciples; with the scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees; with Roman soldiers and with lepers and prostitutes.

It was within these relationships that He lived His incarnate life, experiencing pain, poverty and temptation; witnessing squalor and brutality; hearing obscenities and profanities and the hopeless cry of the oppressed.

He lived not in sublime detachment or in ascetic isolation, but ‘with us’, as the fellow-man of all men, crowded, busy, harassed, and stressed.

No large estate gave Him space, no financial capital guaranteed His daily bread, no personal staff protected Him from interruptions and no power or influence protected Him from injustice.

He saved us from alongside us.”

–Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 180.

“The great Liberator” by Donald Macleod

“Jesus is the great Liberator. He is not, like Che Guevara or William Wallace, a mere inspiration from the past. He is alive; and He is in control, possessing authority over the whole of heaven and the whole of earth (Mt. 28:18). He has liberated; He is liberating; and He will liberate still. We, to change the metaphor, are mere builder’s labourers. He is the great Master Builder.

He is not an absent Christ, once active in history but now withdrawn. He is an ever-present one, the great freedom fighter who has already destroyed the powers and who, following His death and resurrection, continues to bring liberation to the world’s spiritual slaves.

Our hope for the world rests not with the great stream of Christian pilgrims following in the footsteps of Jesus, but with the living Jesus Himself: still able to conquer every potentate and still able to open every heart. Everyone who comes to Him finds instant freedom (Mt. 11:29).”

–Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 260.

“By comparison, we are pygmies” by Donald Macleod

“We can never be content with parrot-like repetition of the definitions of the past. Yet it would be presumptuous to speak before we have listened to the fathers. Men like Athanasius and Augustine, Basil and Calvin, are the Newtons and Einsteins of theology. By comparison, we are pygmies. Our only hope of far-sightedness is to stand on the shoulders of the giants.”

–Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 16.