We are familiar as Christians, no doubt, with the concept our own justification. However, less familiar, and perhaps a little odd-sounding, is the idea of Jesus being justified. “Wasn’t he perfectly sinless and righteous?” we might say. “Why did he need to be justified?”
Yet it is there in Scripture:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
(1 Timothy 3:16, ESV)
Did you spot it? If you know that “vindicated” is a translation of the same word for “justified” then it is clear. Jesus was justified by the Spirit. (I have no doubt this is a reference to his resurrection cf. Romans 1:4. But that’s another discussion!)
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, preaching in Dundee in 1839, picked this up while speaking about what it means to have fellowship with the Son. So, he says:
Once Jesus was unjustified; once there were sins laid to his charge, – the sins of many. It was this that occasioned his agony in the garden, on the cross. His only comfort was, “He is near that justifieth me.” He knew the time would be short. But now the wrath of God has all fallen upon Him. The thunder-clouds of God’s anger have spent all their lightnings in his head. The vials of God’s wrath have poured out their last drops on Him. He is now justified from all the sins that were laid upon Him. He has left them with the grave clothes. His fellow-men and devils laid all sins to his charge; He was silent. Do you believe this record concerning the Son? Do you cleave to Jesus as yours? Then you have fellowship with him in his justification. You are as much justified as Christ is. There is as little guilt lying upon you as there is upon Christ. The vials of wrath have not another drop for Christ, nor another drop for you. You are justified from all things.
(from a sermon on 1 John 1:1-4 in Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Andrew Bonar)
His teaching was simple: because the Son was justified, we share with him in his justification. Behind it, it seems, was an understanding of the doctrine of union with Christ (so he says, “Do you cleave to Jesus as yours?”). It is when in that union that a Christian receives Jesus’ own justification. There is not another drop of wrath for us.