Atonement

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Can the young girl atone for her mistake?

Can the sportsman atone for his blunder?  Can the husband atone for his callous remark?

If we answer ‘yes’ it’s usually an answer about the guilty party’s need to make amends.  But the bible has a fresh angle on the atonement question.

In fact the bible gave us a fresh word when it gave us “atonement.”  Wycliffe in his 14th century translation out of Latin used words like “to one”, “one-ment” and even “at one” to capture how the bible speaks of bringing man and God together.  But it took William Tyndale in his 1526 translation to standardize this new word – “atone” both as a verb and a noun. And it simply means what it looks like – it’s about addressing the God-man estrangement.  It’s about making God and man “at one” again.

We have already seen an early use of “atonement” in the Golden Calf incident.  Moses ascends the mountain saying

“now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.”  (Exodus 32:30)

There he asks to be blotted out of the Father’s book so that his people will not.  (v32)  Perhaps now is the time for that long-promised sacrifice from Genesis 22.  Perhaps Moses will be the sacrificial Lamb of God dying for his people.  But no.  It was not time for the mountaintop atonement.  And Moses was not to be the sacrifice.

But following Exodus we have a book that is all about this sacrifice and this atonement.  Leviticus is a book laying out all the regulations of tabernacle worship.  As we’ve seen, the tabernacle was the setting for a dramatization of heavenly realities.  And at the heart of its worship was the shedding of blood to make atonement.

49 times the word appears in Leviticus and almost always in the context of blood.  The tabernacle was many things – a portable tent, the dwelling place of the Glory of the LORD, a multi-media gospel presentation, a working model of how God and man can meet… But one thing the tabernacle definitely was… it was a slaughterhouse.

How many millions of gallons of animal blood were shed at the altar, as Old Testament worshippers were shown the cost of atonement?  But here is a key verse about that bloody atonement:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.  (Leviticus 17:11)

In this dramatization of the future atonement, the LORD makes it clear that He gives the blood to make atonement for their sins.

And this is what is so different about the LORD.  Our sin does demand blood.  We cannot be at one with our God, we who dwell in sin and death.  There is a reckoning for our sin.  But the LORD does not demand our blood.  Instead He provides blood.  The blood of a substitutionary sacrifice.  It’s the blood of another that makes atonement.

So over and over again the Israelites are being shown what atonement means.  I am guilty.  I am worthy of death.  But the LORD wants to be at one.  So He provides the blood.  He pays the cost.  And every worshipper at that tabernacle should have looked forward with awe and gratitude to the Real Atonement.  All of this was pointing them to the time their LORD would come as a Lamb – the Lamb of God to atone for the sins of the world.

We are not right – us and God.  We dwell in sin and death.  He dwells in light and life.  And we cannot make things right between us.  Nothing we can do will make atonement.  We can’t embark on our own spiritual pilgrimage to God.  We can’t flog ourselves in atonement or shed our blood to make amends.  But the LORD Jesus has provided His own blood.  Freely.  The blood of God has been shed (Acts 20:28).  That infinitely precious atonement has been made.

And He hasn’t done it to leave us on the outer.  He hasn’t done it to simply forgive us, or give us a righteous status.  He’s done it to make us ONE again.

In the book, the notion of atonement is the fairytale ending.  But still we long for it.  We long for the girl to make amends, to put everything right again.  We long for the sports star to bounce back and for the estranged couple to be reunited in love.  How much more should we rejoice in this atonement?  Christ has done everything – moved heaven to earth! – to make this reconciliation.  And He’s done it all to make us one – to bring us “nigh” as the old translations say.

Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  (Ephesians 2:13)

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