Jack Cottrell — Summer 2017

An old familiar hymn goes like this: “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!” Another stanza in this hymn says: “This is all my hope and peace: nothing but the blood of Jesus! This is all my RIGHTEOUSNESS: nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

Another hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Another stanza puts it this way: “When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found: Dressed in HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS alone, faultless to stand before the throne.”

What are these hymn-writers talking about? The blood of Jesus is “our righteousness”? What does this mean? Notice how 1 John 2:1-2 puts it: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

In a previous communion meditation I explained what John means when he says that Jesus is our “Advocate” with the Father, i.e., the defense lawyer who will plead our case on the Judgment Day. But John says our Advocate is not simply “Jesus Christ”; He is “JESUS CHRIST THE RIGHTEOUS”! Why does he add “the Righteous”? What does Jesus’ righteousness have to do with saving us from eternal hell?

First let’s define some terms. Something is “righteous” if it measures up to its required norm. For human beings our required norm is the law of God; a human being is righteous if he or she satisfies the requirements of God’s law.

Now, Jesus Christ was God in the form of a human being; he was God the Son (the Logos) who became incarnate (enfleshed) as a male human. Thus as a human being he was required to be righteous by satisfying the requirements of every law of God that applied to male Jews in his lifetime.

The question is this: WAS he righteous? Did he measure up to the requirements of the law that applied to him? Of course he did! He obeyed all the commandments of his law code without committing any sins. Paul says he “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21); Hebrews 4:15 says He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” So Jesus was truly righteous, in the sense of sinless.

This raises another question: what does this have to do with his work as our Advocate, our defense lawyer on the Day of Judgment? Surely it is a blessing to have a perfectly honest and sinless lawyer to defend us, but how does that take away the penalty for our sin?

Here’s the deal: there are actually TWO WAYS for any man (or woman) to be RIGHTEOUS with respect to God’s law—i.e., to satisfy the requirements of the law. Remember that every law has two parts: commands and penalties. You can be righteous by satisfying its commands of God’s law—which Jesus Christ (alone) has done; and He did this for Himself, since as a human being He was required to do so.

But you can also be righteous by satisfying the penalty imposed by God’s law, which is eternity in hell. This is something Jesus was not required to do, since He was sinless. However, the whole purpose of Jesus’ existence as the God-man was to put Himself in the place of all other human beings and satisfy the righteous requirement of the law that sinners must be punished with eternal condemnation in hell! This is the righteousness He accomplished for us, so that He could share it with us! This is how He became “Jesus Christ the Righteous”—the sin-bearer, the punishment-payer, the righteousness-provider, the Lawyer-Advocate who guarantees that the Holy Judge will declare that the punishment for our sins has already been paid!

His blood shed for us IS His righteousness; but He gives that righteousness to us, just as He took our sin upon Himself. As Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:21, “He [the Father] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

The hymns quoted above have it right: “This is all my righteousness: nothing but the blood of Jesus”! My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood, which IS His righteousness! As we take the Lord’s Supper today, let us give thanks for “Jesus Christ the Righteous.” Let us remember that it is not our righteous obedience to God’s law-commands that gets us to heaven, but Jesus’ submission to the righteous punishment for our sins.

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