Lev. 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’
Hebrews 10:11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being [d]sanctified.
The Meaning of Atonement
Since we are going to be looking at the matter of atonement this morning we will be well served to have a functional definition of atonement so that every time you hear that word you will know what we are speaking of.
Theologian Leon Morris tell us that;
Atonement means ‘a making of one.’ and points to a process of bringing those who are estranged into a unity… Its use in theology is to denote the work of Christ in dealing with the problem posed by the sin of man, and in bringing sinners into right relation with God.”
Theologian Paul Jewett adds,
“Etymologically the word atonement signifies a harmonious relationship of that which brings about such a relationship, i.e. – a reconciliation. Atonement is principally used of of the reconciliation between God and man effected by the work of the Cross.”
Both of these passages that were read this morning refer to the great religious fact of Atonement. The passages that speak of atonement or some aspect of atonement are ubiquitous in Scriptue.
In the idea of Atonement we find the great central truths of the Christian faith, but not only the Christian faith as we shall learn, but all the great central truth of all religions. Indeed, one of the burdens of the sermon this morning is to not only to understand the meaning and necessity of the Atonement but also to understand that atonement as a general category is an inescapable category wherein all men, regardless of their religious status, require and so seek out.
The text in Leviticus 17 reminds us that it was God Himself who required the sacrificial system wherein the Priests busied themselves in the work in bringing sacrifices for the purposes of Atonement. The text from Hebrews teaches that all that was prefigured in the OT work of the Priestly caste was fulfilled perfectly by Jesus the Christ.
When we consider the atonement we would do well to start with by looking at the necessity of the atonement. The atonement presupposes the central tenets of our undoubted catholic Christian faith. The necessity of the atonement implies
A Holy Creator God
A violation of the Creator Holy God’s Holy Law by man now the sinner laden w/ objective guilt
A resultant fractured relationship that means a Holy God’s just wrath is upon man the sinner
God’s requirement by way of blood penalty that must be paid in order for man to be restored
This penalty paid must propitiate and reconcile God while expiating sin, so redeeming sinners
God’s provision in Himself as the God/Man paying the penalty as substitute that man could not pay
With the result that Man the sinner is brought back into right relation with God
And in that brief outline lies the essence of the Gospel and a lifetime of preaching. This is how important and monumental the issue of Atonement is. So important is the subject that I have tried to read one substantial book every year during the last 4 decades on the Atonement or some aspect of it. Without a sound understanding of the Atonement there exists only a Christianity that is no Christianity.
With that in mind we come to the passages and note a few matters regarding atonement.
I.) The Necessity of Atonement
In the texts we have had read for us this morning we learn that Atonement is the great central fact of the Christian faith. Leviticus 17:11 teaches us that God required Atonement of His people. Indeed, the whole sacrificial system of the OT pivots on the necessity of atonement.
But the necessity of the Atonement has a far longer history than Israel’s sacrificial system. The necessity of atonement goes way back to the garden after the fall. It is hinted at already with the fact that our first parents were covered after their garden sin with the skins of slain animals. Atonement is even more clearly with the account of Cain & Abel. God looked with favor upon the offering brought by Abel but with disfavor upon the offering brought by Cain.
Why was Abel’s offering – ‘fat portions from some of the firstborn flock’ – acceptable while Cain’s offering of some of the fruits of the soil not acceptable? Could it be that Cain offered a bloodless sacrifice apart from faith while Abel offered God a better blood sacrifice combined with faith as it was.
This is what Hebrews 11:4 hints at;
4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous,
So we see the necessity of atonement.
The atonement is necessary if we are have audience with God… if we are to be friends with God. And because of the atonement is necessary the OT is splashed and covered with blood that could only point in the direction of an atonement that the OT could only anticipate.
The word of the atonement in the OT is Kipper. We hear it in the Jewish celebration of Yom Kipper. It literally means to cover. The word is used to describe the effect of the OT sacrifices at the consecration of the High Priest and the altar and the annual sacrifices especially on the Day of atonement.
Atonement is necessary as covering because by the atonement the sins of the people were covered so that God did not see them. This was pictured in the OT by the fact that on the Day of Atonement the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies into the presence of God and would sprinkle the blood of that atoning sacrifice upon the Mercy Seat of the ark of the covenant where within was the law of God which condemned the people as sinners. By this act the blood was covering the law’s just accusation against the sin of the people and so God’s just wrath was turned away and so God was pleased to continue with His people.
So we see it all there in this required sacrificial system that required blood atonement. This is why Scripture teaches that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
However, the Scripture also consistently teaches that all this was only promissory and anticipatory of a greater future atonement. Indeed we find that very idea expressed a few verses earlier in the chapter that was read this morning;
Hebrews 10: 1For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
All that blood. All that time and treasure. All that expertise in animal slaughtering could not possibly take away sins. And it was never intended to. It was intended to be a daily reminder that another substitute bloody death was coming who would take away sin for good.
And so we look at that final Atonement;
II.) The Final Atonement
The passage in Hebrews read this morning says explicitly that all that was done in the old and worse covenant by way of sacrifice “could never take away sins.”
The author of Hebrews here highlights the work of the OT High Priest and priests and contrasts that work with the redemptive work of Christ. Note how complete the contrast is in this text
Vs. 11 Vs. 12
Day after Day But
every Priest This Priest
stands sat down
he offers when [he] had offered
again and again for all time
the same sacrifices one sacrifice
which can never for sins
take away sins
The text teaches here that Christ then was the fulfillment of both the responsibilities of the great High Priest inasmuch as he offered up the sacrifice. The text teaches here that Christ also then was the fulfillment of those sacrifices as the sacrifice that He offered up as the Great High Priest was Himself as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
But unlike the High Priest of the OT he did up offer up Himself as Atonement for His own sins. He offered Himself as God’s atonement for the sins of His people. Unlike the High Priest of the OT once this self atonement was completed – this one sacrifice for sins – His work was complete and He sits down at the right hand of God.
Keep in mind that this is other contrasts
In the OT the sanctuary furniture included table, lamp, altar of incense, and the ark… but one thing it did not include was a chair. Yet when this High Priest completes His work He sits down simply because there is no longer any necessary atonement sacrifices to be accomplished.
A couple implications here:
1.) This is why we can have no tuck with well intentioned and friendly Roman Catholics. I have good friends who want to be and are friendly with Roman Catholics. As such they are on good terms with them. However, they are not doing any friendly favors to Romanists by not telling them that their ongoing attendance to the Mass where Christ is once again sacrificed for sin as atonement is nothing but gross idolatry. There can be no reconciliation with Rome as long as Christ once for all sacrifice is denied by the Mass and we are offering the Roman Catholic rank and file no friendship if we do not at least occasionally bring that up to those of them who are our friends.
2.) Some of you here need to satisfied with this complete atonement. God is saying to you in the words of the song “Just come in;”
What do I see you draggin’ up here, is that for your atoning?
Some of you can’t believe that God’s grace is that gracious. Some of you can’t believe that God’s atonement is final. Some of you can’t believe that Christ has sat down. As such you can’t believe that your sins really are forgiven. As such you keep draggin’ before him your obedience so as to somehow be additions to Christ’s atonement.
Brother … Sister … you don’t have to keep living with your ongoing sin and guilt. Confess your sins and believe that God is faithful and just to forgive your sins. Brother … Sister … keep before you that God is satisfied with the atonement He provided for you. You don’t have to augment His atonement with your atonements.
Quit beating yourself. Christ has taken your beating for you. Quit thinking that you are accepted by your performance. You’re not, nor ever could be. You are accepted on the basis of the performance of Jesus Christ as your obedience and atonement. Some of us need to really believe that we are loved by God for the sake of Christ.
So there it is. Christ is our atonement. God’s just wrath is turned from us and our sin removed from us so that all we know now is God’s fatherly love and favor. We are those who have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our sin is covered and we are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Because of this atonement God is reconciled to us and we are reconciled to God. Because of this atonement the ransom price was paid not with silver or gold but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ – a lamb without spot or blemish and so we are redeemed.
III.) Life Without Christ’s Atonement
Now, what of those who have not closed with Christ and so come under his atonement? Have they escaped all this theology. Are they living life apart from the category of atonement.
We would say 1000 times NO and this truth needs to be heralded.
The non-believe in Christ still lives with the necessity of atonement and still spends their life seeking to come up with some other atonement besides the atonement that we have spoken of here briefly this morning.
Modern man is riddled with guilt and being riddled with guilt and refusing the atonement found in Christ he is forever seeking to provide self-atonement for himself. Indeed, the man apart from Christ busies himself all his life seeking an atonement that will cover the guilt he can not escape. People outside of Christ are dangerous for this reason.
They are dangerous because there are only so many options to look to for atonement when the atonement that is found in Christ is rejected.
Sinful and guilty Man outside of Christ can only find relief from his guilt and sin in an atonement that comes from either
1.) His paying for his own penalty (Masochism)
2.) His looking to pass on his sin and guilt to another so as to find atonement (Sadism)
These are the options for those outside of Christ who do not have Christ as their atonement. The need for atonement does not go away and so it is either the pursuit of Masochistic self atonement – the constant punishing of the self, or it is the sadistic activity on making others your atonement.
Let us make this clear;
Man apart from Christ is guilty.
He will not have Christ has his atonement
He still must do something with his sin and guilt
He still must have atonement
That atonement will be found in masochism or sadism
So, atonement is an inescapable category. It is never a matter of atonement. It is always a matter rather of which atonement will be sought out.
For our purposes I have drawn definitions of Masochism and Sadism form Websters Dictionary.
Masochism per Webster is – a taste for suffering
And I am insisting that modern man who has not fled to Christ and His suffering atonement will seek out his atonement with a taste for self inflicted suffering.
Now as it touches this Masochistic atonement modern man is like all that went before. I remember when I first read about the traveling flagellants. In medieval Europe they would travel from city to city carrying whips and flailing themselves on their backs.
The Flagellants were religious followers who would whip themselves, believing that by punishing themselves they would invite God to show mercy toward them. The Flagellants would arrive in a town and head straight for the church, where bells would ring to announce to the townsfolk that they had arrived. Having recited their liturgies the Brethren would move to an open space and form a circle, stripping to the waist and then walking around the circle until called to stop by the Master. They would then fall to the ground, adopting a crucifix position, or holding three fingers in the air (perjurors) or lying face down (adulterers). Having been thrashed by the Master, the Brethren would stand and begin to flagellate themselves. After some period of this self-torture, the Flagellants would throw themselves to the ground once more, and the process would begin again.
Each whip consisted of a stick with three knotted thongs hanging from the end. Two pieces of needle-sharp metal were run through the centre of the knots from both sides, forming a cross, the end of which extended beyond the knots for the length of a grain of wheat or less. Using these whips they beat and whipped their bare skin until their bodies were bruised and swollen and blood rained down, spattering the walls nearby. I have seen, when they whipped themselves, how sometimes those bits of metal penetrated the skin so deeply that it took more than two attempts to pull them out.–
Heinrich von Herford (c. 1300-1370), Chronicon Henrici de Hervordia
Much of the medieval system of forgiveness was all about masochistic behavior in one form or another
Modern man outside of Christ and without His atonement disguises this better but you can be sure that those without Christ are inflicting suffering among themselves in an attempt to provide a self-atonement. All people who are not Christians are either masochists or sadists or both. They are determined and govern by masochistic/sadistic impulses.
RJR agreed w/ us here writing;
“E.J. Warner, has written a very telling book, again from a totally non-Christian perspective, titled The Urge to Mass Destruction. This masochistic impulse is ultimately suicidal, because man, feeling his guilt and his sin, feels the need for punishment and the penalty of death, and so his activities become suicidal progressively, and the more deeply guilty a culture becomes and the more it departs from God, the more suicidal it will become until it is governed by what Warner called the urge to mass destruction, and Warner, writing approximately ten years ago, said that this urge to mass destruction was taking over the politics of modern man so that our modern politics is the politics of the urge to mass destruction. These men are all talking about atonement, about the desperate, the crying need for atonement in the heart of man, and it’s a sad fact that the pulpit doesn’t recognize that everything we deal with every day is wrapped up in this mad desire for self-atonement, for atonement without Christ.”
Lift your eyes and look around. What else can account for the odd behavior that we a currently seeing except for the mad pursuit to find a masochistic self-atonement? What else is all this piercing and tattooing … what else is all this gender dysphoria that pursues drugs and surgeries… What else is all these various addictions to various substances except the attempt to self-atone. The weight of sin and guilt is known. They will not have Christ atone for them and so they look to provide their own suffering and atonement.
With this realization how can there not be a place in our hearts that just weeps for these people? How can we look on this self-cruelty that seeks to provide a self-atonement and not have compassion and pity? How can we not long for them to know the only one who can so atone for them that they will be done with their own attempts at self atonement.
And now I’m fixin’ to meddle. What else can it be besides an urge to provide self-atonement that finds much of the leadership in the Evangelical/Reformed world that insists that the White Christian should be satisfied with being replaced in his own land thus suffering as hewers of wood and drawers of water? What else can it be but trying to pay for a false guilt that even were the accusations true (and they’re not) should be entrusted to having been paid for by Christ in His atonement. No… instead, so the narrative goes, we White Christians are to pay for the putative sins of our Fathers by taking upon ourselves a masochistic self-atonement.
No…. I will not play this game. My sins have been atoned for and I owe nothing to those who know not the atonement of Jesus Christ and so are trying to provide for their own self-atonement by sadistically foisting off their sin of envy upon me and my people.
And what of the attempt to self-atone that is Sadism which is defined in a delight in cruelty towards others?
There are those who, not accepting the atonement of Christ will instead of seeking masochistically to pay for their sins will instead sadistically seek to foist their sin upon others thus arriving at self-atonement?
Here we find the race pimps and race hustlers as I already mentioned. Here we find the Narcissist (and unsurprisingly we find Narcissism is growing by leaps and bounds in our culture) seeking to make everything the fault of someone else. Most of us have known them. They never take responsibility for anything… even if the same thing happens over and over again. They are forever pointing fingers at somebody else and are forever coming up with justifications for their behavior. Forever trying to find atonement by inflicting cruelty on others.
To all this masochism and sadism in our culture we have but one answer. That answer is the atonement of Jesus Christ who is the only way who is sufficient to provide atonement so as to save us from our own self-atoning efforts. It is Christ as our atonement who turned away the Father’s just wrath against sin. It is Jesus as our atonement who took away our sins. It is Jesus the Christ who reconciled God to us and us to God. It is the Lord Christ as our great High Priest who provided redemption.
Let us practice being satisfied with His atonement.