The cross of Christ looms over the entire Bible. Ever since the fall, when Adam’s sin plunged man into sin and condemnation and death (Romans 5:12-19), the cross has been required. Man has fallen into sin, and now only the sacrificial death of the sinless Son of God can pay the price of our redemption.
THE MYSTERY OF FORGIVENESS
But for God’s people living before the incarnation of Jesus the Messiah and before the cross, God’s means of forgiveness was a mystery. Oh yes, it was evident that the LORD did forgive sin, but what was the basis for that forgiveness?
- Isaiah 1:18 says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” But how is that possible? How can my scarlet sins become white as snow?
- Psalm 103:12 declares, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He (the LORD) remove our transgressions from us.” For whom does the LORD do this? How can I be one of the ones for whom the LORD removes transgressions?
- Micah 7:19 says, “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Who is the “us” and the “our” in this verse? How do I become a part of that group?
- In fact, this mystery of forgiveness could call into question the justice of God. In Ezekiel 18:4, the prophet, speaking by the word of the LORD, says, “The soul who sins shall die.” That seems very clear, but then we read just a few verses later that if a wicked person turns from their sins, none of his transgressions will be remembered (18:21-23). Wait a minute! How did this sinner who should die get forgiven? Is it right for God to forgive great iniquity? How can God forgive ANY iniquity and remain just? How can God threaten to punish sin but then also not remember sin? What is the basis for His judgment or His forgiveness?
- In 2 Samuel 12, after the prophet Nathan has confronted King David about his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and his sin of arranging for the murder of Uriah, David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD (12:13a).” Now the Law required stoning to death with stones both for the sin of adultery and for the sin of murder. Yet the Scripture in 2 Samuel 12:13b says, “And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.’” Wait a minute again! That cannot be right. How can the LORD put away David’s two huge sins and still be a just Judge? If God’s Law requires stoning for a sin, how can David be acquitted after just voicing a simple confession?
- And so, the cross as the means of God’s forgiveness of sins remained hidden from the Old Testament saints, even though the effects of the cross were scattered throughout the Scriptures. We come, then, to our study text, Psalm 85:2-3, which talks about forgiveness of sin and removal of wrath.
YOU COVERED ALL THEIR SIN – PSALM 85:2-3
You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin.
You withdrew all Your wrath; You turned from Your hot anger.
We will go through these short verses carefully and see how the cross answers the questions we have been asking, even though it had not been revealed to the psalmist and still lay centuries in the future.
- You forgave the iniquity of Your people. From the Old Testament Law, we can see that every Iniquity “received a just retribution (Hebrews 2:2).” That means that iniquity requires punishment or an atoning sacrifice. To be forgiven, there must be some recompense or some atonement that removes the offense. So, the cross is implied here as the hidden means of atonement. Also note that all iniquity is forgiven. (It makes no sense grammatically or practically for the LORD to forgive some sins, for even one unforgiven sin is enough to condemn.)
- You forgave the iniquity of Your people. A critical question is, “Who are ‘Your people’?” Theologically we know that forgiveness is specific. It applies to specific people when specific conditions are met. Here we see that the LORD forgave the iniquity of His people and it necessarily follows that He forgave no others. Since the only forgiven people are His people, it is incumbent on us to be part of His people or to become part of His people. From the Scriptures, we know that we become His people by faith (Hebrews 11) and that we are justified by faith (Galatians 2:16; etc.).
- You covered all their sin. From the first half of this verse, we can see that this also applies only to the LORD’s people. When the LORD covers sin, He does so that it will be hidden from sight. David writes, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered (Psalm 32:1).” Since sin is an offense against the LORD (Psalm 51:4), and since the LORD is the supreme Judge, when He covers sin, that sin has been forgiven and forgotten. Since the cross punished all the sin of all of the LORD’s people, then the LORD can justly cover it.
- You withdrew all Your wrath; You turned from Your hot anger. Sin is an offense against the Holy One, against the LORD our God, and the Lord responds to sin with wrath. Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” At the end of the age, Jesus Christ will return to “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Revelation 19:15).” There must be some means whereby the LORD’s people can turn away the Lord’s wrath. But again, we find that the cross of Christ is the answer. For “Christ Jesus is whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:25).” “Propitiation” is a theological word that here means to quench the wrath. By His death on the cross, Jesus has not only paid for our sins, but He has also satisfied the wrath of God that our sins provoked.
Think of the greatness of the cross. All are in need of its benefits, because all have sinned, but all are also able to receive its benefits by faith. There is no ethnic or financial or social or physical barrier in your way. All are welcome to bow at the cross. The power of the cross extends into the future until the last of God’s elect comes to faith in Jesus, and it goes backward into the past, applying Jesus’ redeeming blood to all of the Lord’s people since the Garden of Eden. All who will ever be forgiven of sin are forgiven because of the cross.
And what about those who are not the Lord’s people? What will become of them? A review of the verses just studied will answer the question. Their sins remain unforgiven and uncovered. The wrath that has been provoked by each one of their transgressions remains as furious as ever, and the hot anger of the Lord is still poured out on them. Those who are not the Lord’s people must turn from their sins and trust Christ for their salvation. “For there is salvation in no other name; for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).”
SDG rmb 10/16/2020