The hymn writer Anne Cousin wrote, “Jehovah lifted up His rod; O Christ, it fell on Thee! Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God; There’s not one stroke for me. Thy tears, Thy blood, beneath it flowed; Thy bruising healeth me.”
Why did Jehovah lift his rod and strike Christ? It was because Christ was our substitute on the cross. This is the heart of the cross. 1 Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous”. Christ suffered for the unrighteous. This means that the punishment he received was the penalty they deserved. Paul, in 2 Cor. 5:21, tells us that Christ was made sin for us so we could be made the righteousness of God in him. Christ was made sin.
As our willing substitute, he became legally guilty for all of our wretched sins. As a mass of concentrated sin, the justice and holiness of God was unleashed with full fury on him. Every last dark drop from the cup of God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus until he cried, “It is finished!” In this, every drop of blood man shed that cried out for justice was told, “Be silent, it is finished!” In this word, the Jews that carried their lambs and goats to slaughter for atonement are told, “Be done, it is finished!” In this the broken law that held curses over our heads is told, “No condemnation in Christ, it is finished!” Speak to your own conscience, saying, “It is finished! Your sins are forgiven” As the hymn writer said, “There’s not one stroke for me!” Do you believe that?
Yet there is even more in this great exchange that took place on the cross. Our sins were counted to Christ so that Christ’s righteousness would be counted to us. 1 Cor. 1:30 tells us that Christ is our righteousness, just like 2 Cor. 5:21 tells us that we are made the righteousness of God in him. You see, not only are the sins of Christians forgiven by Christ’s death, but the perfect life of Christ is counted to them. In Christ, we are seen by God, not only as having never sinned but as possessing a record as righteous as Jesus Christ himself! Our position before God is righteous in Christ. Is there any better news than that? No wonder we call it “the gospel.”