[Editor's note: the following is an excerpt (chapter 5, by R.C. Sproul) from Proclaiming a Cross-centered Theology published by Crossway Books. Contributors include: Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan, R. Albert Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and Thabiti M. Anyabwile. © 2009 by Together for the Gospel]

THE CURSE MOTIF OF THE ATONEMENT
For over fifty years I have studied and read a host of tomes written about the meaning of the cross of Christ, and yet I still believe that I have not been able to do anything more than touch the surface of the depths and the riches that are contained in that moment of redemptive history. I suspect that when my eyes open in heaven for the first time, I will be absolutely staggered by the sudden increase of understanding that will come to me when I behold the Lamb who was slain and hear angels and archangels singing in my ears, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing" (Rev. 5:12), and when I see the apostle Paul and say, "Thank you for knowing nothing but Christ and him crucified."

When we go to the New Testament and read not only the nar­rative event of the cross but the many didactic expressions that explain to us its meaning and significance, I think we are soon aware that there is no one image or dimension that can comprehensively explain the cross. Rather, we find many images and metaphors that would indicate that the cross is a multifaceted event. It is by no means one-dimensional. It is as a magnificent tapestry woven by several distinct brightly hued threads that, when brought together, give us a magnificent finished work of art.

When the New Testament speaks of the atonement of Jesus, it does so in terms of substitution; it calls attention to a death that in some way was vicarious. The New Testament speaks of the sat­isfaction of the justice and wrath of God. In Scripture we see the metaphor of the kinsman redeemer who paid the bridal price to purchase his bride with his blood, releasing her from bondage. We see that motif used in the New Testament when it speaks of ransom that is paid. We find the motif of victory over Satan and the powers of darkness when the serpent's head is crushed under the bruised heel of the Redeemer.

But one image, one aspect, of the atonement has receded in our day almost into obscurity. We have been made aware of present-day attempts to preach a more gentle and kind gospel. In our effort to communicate the work of Christ more kindly we flee from any men­tion of a curse inflicted by God upon his Son. We shrink in horror from the words of the prophet Isaiah (chap. 53) that describe the ministry of the suffering servant of Israel and tells us that it pleased the Lord to bruise him. Can you take that in? Somehow the Father took pleasure in bruising the Son when he set before him that awful cup of divine wrath. How could the Father be pleased by bruising his Son were it not for his eternal purpose through that bruising to restore us as his children?

But there is the curse motif that seems utterly foreign to us, particularly in this time in history. When we speak today of the idea of curse, what do we think of? We think perhaps of a voodoo witch doctor that places pins in a doll made to replicate his enemy. We think of an occultist who is involved in witchcraft, putting spells and hexes upon people. The very word curse in our culture suggests some kind of superstition, but in biblical categories there is nothing superstitious about it.

Blessings and Curses in Biblical History

The idea of the curse is deeply rooted in biblical history. We need only to go to the opening chapters of Genesis to the record of the fall of man, the event that provoked from God his anathema on the serpent, who was cursed to go around on his belly. The curse was then given to the earth itself: it would bring forth thorns and briars, making it difficult for Adam to live by the toil of his brow. The curse also brought excruciating (I choose that word carefully) pain to women during childbirth.