begin by asking, are you in debt? Most of us are. Let me
re-phrase it. Are you or have you ever been in debt over
your head? Some of you may feel a sense of suffocation
because the debt that you owe is more than you can bear.
Maybe you're thinking about your mortgage, second mortgage,
car payment, student loan and all those credit cards that
have piled up. You suddenly are beginning to realize your
income doesn't equal the outgo and bankruptcy may be
staring you in the face. WHOA!
Now this lesson isn't about physical indebtedness. But if
you're deep in debt or have been, you will better
appreciate in your heart the nature of this lesson.
Atonement may bring the image of those dry old dusty
preacher words. If you've been to church at all, you've
probably heard preachers somewhere stand up and talk about
atonement. Maybe you heard what it meant, but you've
forgotten and you don't know that you ever really want to
know again. Atonement is a wonderful word that you and I
don't even have the luxury of not understanding, if we're
Christians. It's a word that shapes and manifests the
destiny of our lives.
What does it mean? The dictionary provides its secular
definition; to supply a need or to restore a deficiency.
Interestingly enough, the Greek word used in the writing of
the New Testament meant to pay a debt and particularly to
pay a debt that an individual would be unable to pay. If
you were to do that you would have atoned the debt. That's
the reason for the little introduction about financial
indebtedness. But atonement as used in the Bible has
nothing to do with financial indebtedness. It has something
far more important than that.
God creates every human being in His image (Genesis 1:27).
He creates every one of us absolutely spotless, holy and
without sin. Some of you have heard the doctrine of
original sin proposed. It is the idea that when a child
comes from its mother's womb it already has sinned as it
has its parents' sins. There is nothing in the Bible to
validate that. Instead Jesus told the disciples in Luke 18
to let the little children come and be around him for such
is the kingdom of God. They're not sinners. They're
innocent and wonderful and clean. God really does make us
in his image in a multitude of ways, one way being we're
pure and without the stain of sin. But as we grow older and
mature, one by one, time after time, we choose to sin. The
Greek word rendered sin means to miss the mark. It was
often used as an archery term. If someone was shooting at a
bull's-eye and the arrow went off-centered just a little
bit, that person missed the mark. That's the idea of sin.
When I miss the mark of God's ideal for my life, I've
sinned. When we hear the word sin or sinner, we tend to
associate it with some heinous things. We think about
criminal behavior. We think about that which is socially
unacceptable and it includes all that. So, whenever we miss
the mark for God's ideal for our life, we sin. Whenever we
do something that God would not have us do, we've sinned.
Whenever we don't do something that God would have us do,
we've sinned. So make sure we understand that every time
that you miss a mark, we've fallen short of God's intent
and you have sinned.
Paul states in Romans 3:23 "all have sinned and fallen
short of God's glory." In missing the mark, we begin to
incur a debt to our Creator. He created us sinless and in
His image, but little by little we begin to incur sin and a
chasm grows. The question is what are we going to do about
it? That's a tough question. Since all men and women are
sinners, they cannot pay that debt for each other. I don't
have enough holiness to take care of myself let alone give
you any. You don't have enough to take care of yourself let
alone to lend me any. So collectively we're no better off
than we are individually. We're just a mass of humanity
going through time with this huge sin debt that will kill
Paul also said in Romans 6:23, "'The wages of sin is
death...'" The idea of wage is that there is something
earned by our actions. That's the pay back. That's what's
coming our way. What we can expect for our sin is death.
You say, what's death? Oh, it doesn't mean being put into a
casket under the ground, that's going to happen anyway. The
word "death" means separation. Our sin debt causes us to be
separated from the Almighty God who made us so perfect.
Incidentally, the idea would be like the separation and the
relationship you have with your banker if you kept
accumulating a debt that you could not pay.
Well what do we do? Praise the Lord, God gave an answer.
The answer has its roots way back in the Old Testament.
Take your Bible and turn to Leviticus 17:11. It states a
fundamental principle that is eternal. "For the life of a
creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to
make atonement for yourselves on the altar." Now I'm not
sure why, but if you think about it for a moment it begins
to piece together. God and His infinite wisdom decreed in
essence that "humans, you're sinning and that sin is
sapping the life away from you. Sin is creating a debt to
Me that is drawing you farther and farther from Me. Your
life is being drained and life is made possible by blood."
Incidentally only in the last few years are we
scientifically beginning to understand just how true that
statement is, how necessary blood is to life. Then God
said, "Why don't We let blood, sacrificial blood poured out
on the altar, pay for sin? It will atone for sin. Hundreds
and hundreds and hundreds of years later in the New
Testament when the Hebrew writer was writing under
inspiration in Chapter 9, verse 22, he repeats the same
theme. It says, "without the shedding of blood, there can
be no forgiveness" of sin. There has to be life to pay for
sin. Life pays for death.
So Israel, knowing their sin and the growing chasm between
them and God, saw payment for that sin debt that God
specifically provided called "The Day of Atonement." The
Day of Atonement would be that one day every year where
Israel as a nation would have their sin debt taken care of.
Aaron, who was the high priest, would have to take care of
his own sin. "Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin
offering to make atonement for himself and his household,
and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering."
(Leviticus 16:11) Aaron would cut that bull's throat and
pour the blood out on the altar to atone for his own sin,
but then he had to do something else.
He would then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for
the people and take its blood behind the curtain to do with
it as he did with the bull's blood. He would sprinkle it on
the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way, he
made atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the
uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their
sins had been. You see, God decreed that with the shedding
of that blood, sin could have atonement. It could be paid.
So Aaron did that until he died and then the high priest
did it for years and for generations and for centuries, but
there was one problem. The people were offering those blood
sacrifices of animals in faith. They were coming before God
obediently and they were humble and that pleased God and so
God smiled upon those people, He forgave them, but what we
need to understand is that the sin debt wasn't really being
paid. Not by those animals. (Leviticus 16:15)
In Hebrews 10:1-3 the Bible says "The law is only a shadow
of the good things that are coming---not the realities
themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same
sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect
those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not
have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have
been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt
guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual
reminder of sins," and verse 4 states, "because it is
impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away
sins." If you think about it, you know that's right.
There's no way that the blood from an animal, even if it's
offered in obedience and humility, could take away the sin
of one who was made in the image of God. Therefore: no
human being with those animal sacrifices could ever be
truly cleansed. So entered Jesus Christ, The Word, who
John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was
with God, and the Word was God." Verse 14 states "the Word
became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld the glory of
the only begotten of the Father." Hebrews 4:15 says that he
lived a sinless life. "We don't serve a high priest, who
cannot deal with our infirmities, but he has been tempted
in all points like we, yet he was without sin." So when
that one perfect, sinless individual came and lived, it
made him fit to be the real, genuine and authoritative
payment for the sin debt. "For Christ did not enter a
man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he
entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's
presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again
and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy
Place every year with blood that is not his own" (Hebrews
9:24). This wasn't a copy. This wasn't a ritual and this
wasn't a ceremony. Jesus actually paid the price.
John the Baptist "saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
'Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the
world!'" (John 1:29) The apostle John also wrote in 1 John
2:1-2 "My dear children, I write this to you so that you
will not sin. But if anybody does sin." Don't you like
that? He says I'm trying to get you not to sin, but I know
you're going to sometimes. When you do sin, listen. "We
have one who speaks to the Father in our defense---Jesus
Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for
our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of
the whole world." Isn't that incredible? Yes. Isn't that
unfathomable? Yes, it is. Isn't that too good to be true?
No, it's not too good to be true. It's absolutely true.
When you go to that cross and when you accept that
sacrifice and believe on the only name that you can believe
in wherein you must be saved, Jesus (Acts 4:12). When you
repent of your sins, Acts 20:21, and when you re-enact that
very death, burial, and resurrection by allowing yourself
to be buried with Christ in the waters of baptism to come
up a new creature with your sin buried in that watery
grave, Romans 6:3-5, you become a Christian and you
understand the concept of atonement.
John Bunyan wrote in the 17th Century one of the most
famous works of all, called "Pilgrim's Progress." The main
character in "Pilgrim's Progress" was a character called
"Christian." It was all symbolic. Listen to what he said
about Christian in this work. "Now I saw in my dream that
the highway up which Christian was to go was fenced on
either side by a wall, and that wall was called salvation.
Up this way therefore did Burden Christian run, but not
without great difficulty because of the load that was on
his back. He ran thus till he came to a place somewhat
ascending and upon that place stood a cross and a little
below in the bottom, a sepulcher. So I saw in my dream that
just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed
from off his shoulders and fell from his back and began to
tumble and so continued to do until it came to the mouth of
the sepulchre where it fell in and I saw it no more." We
lose our burden when we come to the cross too.