Tag Archives: Jesus

A Survey of the Cross: The Atonement, Part 1

Recently I finished a book written by Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence entitled, It is Well – Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement.  This book peaked my interest because nearly a year ago I began to think deeply about what the Bible has to say regarding Christ’s accomplishments on the cross, namely the work of Christ.  This interest came about as I wrestled with what many call the Doctrine of Limited Atonement, or perhaps more accurately described as Definite Atonement/Particular Redemption. 

Maybe you, like me, have always been taught a summarized version of what Jesus did on the cross, that He died for “our” sins and maybe even a common verse like Romans 5:8 or John 3:16 was used to express that idea.  While these passages are absolutely true in their assertions, we must remember their context and realize that there is more to the story.  To our discredit, many of us have developed what I call a “tract-theology”, sadly resulting in a truncated Gospel as well as a misunderstanding and misapplication of Scripture.    

Because of this, it seems to me that very few of us professing Christians are able to articulate the Gospel, much less talk intelligently about the cross of Christ, and I count myself among that number.  Since it is the central tenet of our faith, it seems reasonable to me that we should all be aware, at least on an introductory level, of what the Bible has to say about this.  When we biblically examine the nature, intent, and actuality of the work of Christ it magnifies God in our lives and opens up His glory to be put on display through us, essentially making Jesus a forethought instead of an afterthought.  Perhaps one reason why so many professing Christians have been classified as “nominal” is because they lack knowledge concerning the foundation of their faith and have become too comfortable worshipping a small God who saves through an even smaller cross than the ones most wear around their neck.

That being said, I’d like to devote several posts to these thoughts as we search through Scripture, to unfold the glorious nature of the cross.  Instead of just hearing “Jesus died on the cross for our sins” a saying most of us have heard since childhood and are likely numb to, maybe if we actually took the time to understand what the Bible said it would not only humble us, but magnify the Lord in our lives.

For today, let’s simply begin with the word Atonement.  The Oxford English dictionary defines it as, “as the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ.”  In Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, he prefers to define it as including the “life and death” of Jesus, which alludes to His obedience in life as well as on the cross.  Sufficient for our discussion today will be the ESV Study Bible definition of, “The making of enemies into friends by averting the punishment that their sin would otherwise incur.”  The Bible defines this punishment in a two-fold manner: 1) The wages of sin is death, primarily in an eternally spiritual sense (Romans 6:23), but also physical death as a consequence of the Fall. Genesis 2-3. 2) The wrath of God.  The Bible makes clear that unrepentant sinners will suffer in Hell under God’s wrath for all eternity. (Romans 2:5, Revelation 6:10-11, 14:10).  So there is something that Jesus did on the cross which provided an “atonement” or a turning away of the punishment, namely death and God’s wrath in hell for eternity, that somebody deserved.

No true biblical study of the atonement of Jesus would be complete without looking at the historical nature of this action, particularly as God defined for the Israelites in Leviticus 16.  As we’ll see, this liturgical practice was actually a foreshadowing of Christ’s atoning work on the cross.  The following passage is long, but take the time to read it carefully:

The Day of Atonement

 1 The LORD spoke to Moses after(A) the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD and died, 2 and the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. 3 But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments.  He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. 5 And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.

 6 “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. 7Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel.  9 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and use it as a sin offering, 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.

 11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. 12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. 14 And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

 15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. 17 No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.

 20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

 23 “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. 24 And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn on the altar. 26 And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. 27 And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the Holy Place, shall be carried outside the camp. Their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned up with fire. 28 And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.

 29 “And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. 30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins. 31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever. 32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. 33 He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34 And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Moses did as the LORD commanded him.”

If you’re like me, you may have either never read that passage before or never realized its significance, which is too often the case with Old Testament passages.  Nevertheless, there is a ton of information packed into this chapter.  First, let’s note that atonement shows up in verse 6, as Moses is instructed to tell the High Priest, Aaron (his brother) the very precise nature of his duties, beginning with the sacrifice of a bull for his own sins.  Next Moses is to tell Aaron to cast lots over 2 goats, essentially flip a coin, resulting in one being the sin offering and the other for Azazel, an unusual Hebrew word that can be thought of best as referring to the “scapegoat”.  The Oxford Dictionary defines this familiar term as, “a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others, especially for reasons of expediency.”  In short, Aaron has two goats, one for a sin sacrifice and the other to be released upon the “transfer of sin” to it as the “scapegoat”.

While there is a lot of significance in verses 11-14, let’s skip ahead to verse 15-16 where we see Aaron’s duty was to sprinkle the blood of the bull (his offering) and the blood of the goat (sin offering for the people) on the mercy seat.  It’s likely this looked something like the picture to the right and we first learn of what the mercy seat is in the following passage from Exodus 25:17-22

17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. 21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.”

Returning to our passage in Leviticus, we’ll next look at verses 20-22 as we see the fate of the second goat, which we’ve already identified as the “scapegoat”.  Here Aaron is instructed to lay his hands on the live goat in order to transfer or “impute” the sins of the people of Israel onto it.  Then the goat is sent off into the wilderness with the idea being that it has taken away the sins of the people to an area outside of the camp of Israel with the implication that it too will die.

Summarizing the biblical historicity which we’ve looked at so far we see that the atonement contains several components.  First, Aaron, the high priest, made atonement for himself and his house through the blood of a bull.  Next, he made atonement for the people of Israel through the blood of a goat sprinkled on the mercy seat.  Finally, we read of Aaron placing his hands on the scapegoat as a transfer or imputation of the sins of Israel onto the goat as it was lead outside of the camp into the wilderness.

Lord willing, next time we’ll look at how all of this relates to Christ’s own atonement.

Heaviness of Soul

I was flipping through a collection of readings by John Wesley early this morning, and came across a message that fits in perfectly with the post I made yesterday.  His sermon is based on I Peter 1, in which Peter discusses various trials and temptations that befall us.

I Peter 1:3-9 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Here is the message from Wesley on that passage:

There is a near relationship between the darkness of mind in the wilderness state and heaviness of soul, which is more common among believers.  The resemblance is so great that they are frequently confounded together.  But they are not equivalent terms; far, far, from it.  The difference is so wide and essential, as all the children of God need to understand, to prevent them sliding out of heaviness into darkness.

The manner of persons to whom the apostle Peter wrote the above words were believers at that time.  He expressly says (I Peter 1:5) you are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.  Again (I Peter 1:7), he mentions the trial of their faith; and yet again (I Peter 1:9), he speaks of their receiving the end of their faith, the salvation of their souls.  So, though they were in heaviness, they were possessed of living faith.  The apostle prays (I Peter 1:2) not that grace and peace may be given them, but that it may be multiplied. 

They were also full of a living hope.  For he speaks (I Peter 1:3) of their living hope of their inheritance that fadeth not away. In spite of their heaviness, they still retained a hope full of immortality.  And they still rejoiced (I Peter 1:8) with joy unspeakable and full of glory.  Their heaviness, then, was also consistent both with living hope and inexpressible joy!

Our God is good.  It’s through this message by Peter that God tells us we are kept by His power through our faith unto salvation.  No matter the burden, trials, temptations, or sins, Christ died for us once, for all. I Peter 3:18 Satan wants the burden of our sin to cast doubt with our faith to lead us into darkness, but we are given the living hope through Jesus and as such we should be rejoiceful, not disheartened.

Sowing Seeds: Applying the Parable

With spring approaching, it’s a great time to begin planning your garden.  I doubt that anyone would attempt to plant their garden seeds on their driveway, probably wouldn’t plant seeds amongst your rose or blackberry bushes, and I doubt anyone would throw a few weed seeds in with their good seed.  Yet this is exactly what happens in the parables that Jesus teaches us in Matthew 13. 

We’ve probably all heard the first parable of this chapter, The Parable of the Sower.  This parable falls along the lines of the analogy I used when planting your garden.  Jesus tells of seeds that are thrown along the path and devoured by birds, sown in rocky soil and withers shortly because it has no roots, and others that fell among the thorns and are choked out.  He then tells of those seeds that fell on good soil and produced grain some hundredfold.  In Jesus’ explanation of this parable found in vs. 18-23, we learn that the seed is the Word of God and that the soil is the heart of man.  Those seeds that were planted along the path, the evil one snatches away.  The seed sown in the rocky soil are hearts that receive the Word with joy, but when times get tough falls away because there is no root within.  Those seeds that are sown among the thorns are those people that hear the Word, but fall victim to the deceitful cares of the world that chokes out the Word.  The seed that brings forth fruit are those that hear the Word and understand it.  This parable is probably one of the best known and a fascinating example of those that hear the Word of God and choose to either reject or accept it.  As important as the parable is to understanding these truths, I want to draw attention to a second parable in this chapter.  Perhaps a lesser known story, The Parable of the Weeds

 Jesus tells this parable in Matthew 13:24-30 and I’ve included it below:

 24Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

 27“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

 28” ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
      “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

 29” ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ “

Jesus explains this parable in vs. 36-43 describing that the one who sowed the seeds is the Son of Man, the field is the world, and the good seed represents the “sons of the kingdom.”  The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the “enemy” that sows them is the devil.  The harvest is the “end of age” while the harvesters are the angels.  As the weeds are pulled up, they are thrown into the fiery furnace and the righteous will “shine like the sun, in the kingdom of their Father.”  While Jesus does and excellent job of illustration, I’d like to apply this lesson to the modern day world. 

First, let’s think about the good seed sown in the field.  We know from the first parable, that this good seed are those that receive the Word of God, understand it, apply it, and bear fruit as a result.  These are Christians that are firmly rooted in the Word of God.  Reading and studying it daily, feeding on the Daily Bread. Luke 11:3 Next, let’s look at the sowed weeds.  Think about what is happening here.  The field is planted, the good seed sown, ready to take root and grow.  Those Christians that receive the Word are prepared to bear fruit.  But what is the role of the weeds?  First let’s examine the role of weeds in nature’s wheat field. 

The Department of Agriculture states that the presence of weeds within a crop can adversely affect the production by increasing cost in several ways, the greatest of which is “a reduction in yield due to weeds competing with the crop for available light, nutrients and moisture.”  Hmmm, so the enemy in verse 25 came through while everyone was sleeping and planted weeds with the intent of reducing the yield of the harvest.  The interesting aspect here is that the weeds are among us and their sole purpose is to compete for the light, to keep it from us, to hide the Truth.  The life of the “weed” mirrors the life of the “wheat”; same soil, same nutrients, same water, same sunlight.  We can look at it as working at the same jobs, going to the same church, our friends, relatives, you name it.  In fact, the King James Version of this same passage refers to the weeds as tares.  These “tares” are thought to be the species darnel.  Consider the following definition of this from Wikipedia: “…usually grows in the same production zones as wheat and is considered a weed. The similarity between these two plants is so extensive that in some regions the [darnel] is referred to as “false wheat.” It bears a close resemblance to wheat until the ear appears. The ears on the real wheat are so heavy that it makes the entire plant droop downward, but the “false wheat”, whose ears are light, stands up straight.  It parasites wheat fields.”  This truth is simply too profound to ignore.  The tares among us are actually a “false wheat.”  If we preach the Bible and hold fast to its doctrines and truths then that must mean that the “tares” preach a false Bible with false doctrines.  We appear exactly the same, indistinguishable until the time of the harvest.

How then did we allow the weeds to get planted in the first place?  Because everyone was asleep.  Matthew 13:25, “But while everyone was sleeping, His enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.”  The Great Awakening occurred in the 1730’s (1730-1755), some 200+ years after the Protestant Reformation (1500s).  Then there were arguably periods of “awakenings” in 1790-1840, followed by the third 1850-1900, and the fourth 1960-1980.  While these later movements, especially the 4th, are debatable, it has been a long time since the first Great Awakening, offering a lot of time for the church to fall asleep and the enemy to grab a foothold and plant his weeds.  That’s exactly where we are today, the church is asleep and the weeds of the devil have been planted.

In the final verses Jesus speaks of His own discernment in not having the servants pull the weeds, instead allowing them both to harvest.  Since  the tares and wheat are virtually indistinguishable until harvest, potential would arise to damage the wheat.  This practice saves the wheat that was able to fend off the weeds.  Waiting until harvest allows the wheat to fully mature, though likewise the weeds, but the harvest creates a better opportunity to separate the two because the wheat bows due to the weight of their ears.  We can view this allegory  as a symbol of the Body of Christ bowing down as the “harvest” comes with His return.       

It’s often easy to read a parable, or even a passage of scripture, and not fully grasp the idea.  It’s especially easy to gloss over these parables without applying them to our daily lives.  The Lord gives us the ability to understand these things through the Holy Spirit.  In fact, Jesus mentions this very thing in vs. 11-17, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.  Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.  This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.  In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ” ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’  But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Are you the tare or the wheat?…….The harvest is coming…