Full atonement—can it be? Yes!

If Leviticus seems incomprehensible, a closer look at that book reveals amazing gospel truth about God, our sin and our redemption from a hopeless state.

A short reading in a difficult book

The schedule last week assigned a relatively short reading (Leviticus 1-16) in a book of the Bible which many modern readers find perplexing.  This allowed time to read helpful introductory notes from a good study Bible such as the ESV Study Bible or the Reformation Study Bible. I rely on these plus Ryken’s Bible Handbook for help with books like Leviticus.

Exodus brought the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to covenant nationhood at Mt. Sinai.  The covenant which God made with Moses and Israel included law: moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law.  The ceremonial law laid out the details of the priesthood, the tabernacle, and the sacrifices.  Now in Leviticus, God specifies to Moses how Israel must  make the offerings of the sacrifices.  Various kinds of sacrifices are designated: burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. Priests and worshipers had to pay close attention to these instructions.  God demanded clean and unblemished animals offered according to His law.  The blood was important as it was the life of the animal.

Illegal worship brings death

In the middle of all these instructions, the violent deaths of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, show that God would punish violations to His law concerning these sacrifices and the tabernacle. Not only must the offerings be made properly by the designated priest, but those making offerings were to take care to be ceremonially clean as they came to the tabernacle.  God gave instructions so that all could approach the holy God in a holy way.

Chapter 16 describes the day of Atonement on which the high priest would annually enter behind the veil of the Holy Place.  On that day, he would make offerings for himself and for the people.  The writer to the Hebrews showed how that holy day points to the ultimate sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered, the sacrifice of Himself on the cross.

Takeaways

Here are some observations from this week’s reading:

  1. God is holy and demands holiness in His people. The biblical doctrine of God does not allow for any theology that holds God to be complacent or ambivalent about violations of His law.
  2. Sin is serious. Israel had a problem.  Indeed, all mankind has a problem.  Neither they nor we are holy.  God does not find our transgressions cute or excusable.
  3. Atonement is the only solution for sin. God required a blood sacrifice of an unblemished animal. He set up the old covenant sacrificial system to point to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Praise God that His Son secured reconciliation with God for all who believe. As the nineteenth century hymn, “Man of Sorrows” by Philip P. Bliss says so well.

Guilty, vile, and helpless, we,

Spotless Lamb of God was He;

Full atonement—can it be?

Hallelujah! what a Savior!

He deserves all praise, always. Our guilt is forgiven. Peace with God is ours through Christ who offered Himself for our sin.  That is complete atonement–the price paid for our freedom from sin and guilt. What a Savior!

This week’s reading: Leviticus 17-27 & Acts 1-12.

 

 

Who is Worthy?

God’s blessings and warnings to Israel did not make them faithful to Him. Only One can be found who is worthy before God the Father.

Today’s Reading

Amos 1-3; Revelation 5

Selected Verses

Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:

“You only have I known
of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
for all your iniquities.”  Amos 3:1-2

And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.  And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”  Revelation 5:3-5

Reflections

In all kinds of human settings, we use rewards and punishments to attempt to encourage desired behavior or to inhibit undesired behavior. As any parent, teacher, or boss can attest, this approach yields limited success, but it seems to be the best option we have.

God did the same sort of thing, first, with our parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden and then with Israel. He blessed them and He warned them. Their response was rebellion and sin. In fact, much of the content of the Old Testament points out this failure on the part of people. To turn against one’s benefactor is a completely irrational act. To disobey God after being clearly warned about the consequences is the height of stupidity. Indeed, sin is stupid, always. Ungratefulness is more than stupid. Israel was guilty, but they were not the only ones. We all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

When John got his vision of heaven, this truth, that all are unworthy before God, was confirmed. He saw a scroll with seven seals. An angel’s cry went out, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” No one was found who qualified. John was appalled. He wept loudly. Such was the state of all mankind against the backdrop of God’s mercy, grace, and holiness.

Then John saw the Lamb. He was declared worthy. He alone could open the seals of the scroll.

Think about it

How would you respond if you could see the true spiritual state of mankind before God in Heaven? Would you weep? Would you look to Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain and who alone is worthy? Look to Him and give Him the praise and glory He is due. He is the One who is worthy.

The Sufferings of Christ

The sufferings of Christ on the cross brought an end to the elaborate (but futile) Old Covenant sacrifices for sin and guilt. And they bring sinners to God.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 40; First Peter 5

Selected Verses

And in the vestibule of the gate were two tables on either side, on which the burnt offering and the sin offering and the guilt offering were to be slaughtered.  Ezekiel 40:39

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed.  First Peter 5:1

Reflections

In Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple, God took him into the inner chamber where there are tables for the washing and slaughter of the various kinds of sacrifices: burnt, guilt, and sin offerings.  Such was the enormity of the sin of God’s chosen people that He commanded the sacrifices to be repeated over and over with no seeming conclusion.  Sin and sacrifices were the way of life on a daily basis.  Talk about life on an endless treadmill!

Would there be no deliverance from the sin or the futility of the animal sacrifices?  Yes, indeed, there would.

Peter witnessed that deliverance accomplished by the sufferings of Christ.  The Apostle knew what those sufferings meant. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” he wrote (First Peter 3:18).  Christ’s sufferings meant that a sufficient offering had finally been made.  Christ suffered once for sins.  His one offering was sufficient because He was righteous. No other person and no sacrificial animal could accomplish what His sufferings accomplished which was to bring unrighteous people to God.

Peter counted himself as one of those unrighteous people graciously brought to God.  He lived out the rest of his life and ministry in the light of the cross of Christ.  When he appealed to the elders among his readers to be faithful and humble shepherds of God’s flock, he did so as one who had never lost sight of the reason for Jesus’ sufferings.

Think about it

Have you grasped the meaning of the sufferings of Christ?  Leave aside any effort to earn forgiveness through any merit of your own, or any feeble offerings to God.  They cannot suffice.  Only the One who suffered for His people on the cross can bring us to God.  Trust in the sufferings of Christ.

The Soul Shepherd

God provided Someone to care for His people, but His identity was a surprise. Have you discovered Him? Is He the Shepherd of your soul?

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 34-35; 1 Peter 2

Selected Verses

I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.  And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.  And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken. Ezekiel 34:22-24

 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:24-25

Reflections

Not infrequently, the Bible uses the analogy of sheep to people. Sheep need constant care. They cannot survive without a shepherd. They are prone to make foolish decisions and get themselves in big trouble.  Not being able to defend themselves, they are susceptible to predators.

Ezekiel condemns those who were supposed to be the shepherds of Israel and Judah. They looked out for themselves and neglected those in their care. God declared to them that He would rescue His flock and get them to safety. He would pronounce judgment. He would provide one shepherd who would feed them and faithfully fulfill the role of shepherd to them. This shepherd to come is identified as God’s “servant David.” Of course, David died four centuries before the time of Ezekiel, so the prophet would have been thinking of a descendant of David. We know Him as Jesus Christ, clearly of the lineage of David.

Peter refers to Christ as the Shepherd and Overseer of the souls of those to whom he wrote. It is Jesus who fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel and rescued His flock. He has fed His people with truth and He will come again to judge those who have rejected His Lordship and His Priesthood. Meanwhile, He calls those He has saved by His death and healed by His wounds to die to sin and live to righteousness. In the first century, the vast majority of the Jews rejected the Soul Shepherd that God had sent them. He didn’t fit the stereotype they had imagined for their Messiah.

Think about it

Has the Shepherd rescued you from the agony of straying like sheep?  Do you know the joy of returning to Him? If so, give Him all the praise and seek to live to righteousness until we enter His presence through death or His return for us.

The Man Who Stood in the Breach

Those who trust in the Man who stood in the breach should be filled with humility and gratitude which is evidenced by mercy and impartiality toward others.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 22-23; James 2

Selected Verses

And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.  Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God.

Ezekiel 22:30-31

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. James 2:1

Reflections

In Ezekiel’s day, invaders broke through the walls of the city. The false prophets did not risk their lives to close these breaches or to stand in them (Ezekiel 13:5). God looked, but there was no one who would do this. My study Bible notes refer to the contrast with Moses who, as a true and faithful leader, stood up in the spiritual breach for Israel when they crafted and worshiped a golden calf. Moses pleaded with God to spare Israel their just punishment and God heard him. [1]  Now the so-called prophets ignored this need. God poured out His wrath on the nation.

Finally, God Himself took on flesh and lived among us to bring atonement for sin and mercy for His people. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Man who stood in the breach against our enemy. He is the Good Shepherd who did not flee when danger came. He bore the pain of death for us. [John 10:7-18]. James calls all who hold the faith in Him to reflect that faith in our actions and attitudes toward others. There should be no partiality based on socioeconomic classes. There should be no favoritism toward the rich nor discrimination against the poor. Those who have received mercy must be merciful or they show they deserve judgment.

Think about it

Be sure your relationships show mercy and not partiality. You have been saved by the Man who stood in the breach for us. Pride and haughtiness have no place in our lives.

[1] Reformation Study Bible p. 1415 note on 22:30-31

The Perfect and Eternal Priest

Fallen humanity needed a priest to intercede before God, but only the perfect and eternal priesthood of the Son of God would prove effective.

Today’s Reading

Lamentations 1-2; Hebrews 7

Selected Verses

He has laid waste his booth like a garden,
laid in ruins his meeting place;
the Lord has made Zion forget
festival and Sabbath,
and in his fierce indignation has spurned king and priest.

The Lord has scorned his altar,
disowned his sanctuary;
he has delivered into the hand of the enemy
the walls of her palaces;
they raised a clamor in the house of the Lord
as on the day of festival. Lamentations 2:6-7

For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. Hebrews 7:28

Reflections

The Book of Lamentations tells the sad, bitter story of the consequences of the sin of Israel and Judah. Despite the law of God which established the priesthood of Aaron, the sacrifices, the worship in the temple, none of this was done without sin. The glories of the past faded away as God sent Babylon to kill and destroy the city known as “the joy of the whole earth” (2:15). The writer of Lamentations was completely clear that this had occurred as a result of the sin of the people. God brought about the wreckage for the gross failures of king and priest and citizenry.

But He had another plan all along. He would send His own Son as a king and priest. The destruction only served to prepare the way for that Messiah who would come. The letter to the Hebrews explains eloquently how the ministry of Jesus Christ, the sinless and eternal High Priest, far exceeds the tarnished and mortal priesthood of the Mosaic law.

Think about it

It was necessary for God to show the world that only Christ could be the High Priest that was needed, One who had no sin to atone for and who would live forever to make intercession for His people. All we need is Christ as our High Priest. His priesthood is after the order of the king of righteousness and the king of peace. In Him we find righteousness and peace forever. Look no further than our Lord Jesus Christ for the path to acceptance before the Holy and Eternal God.

The Longed-For Kingdom

The reign of Jesus Christ, unlike that of Zedekiah, is founded on righteousness and will endure forever–the kingdom to which all God’s people belong.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 38-39; Hebrews 1

Selected Verses

The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah at Riblah before his eyes, and the king of Babylon slaughtered all the nobles of Judah.  He put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains to take him to Babylon. Jeremiah 39:6-7

But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” Hebrews 1:8-9

Reflections

As I write this, it is Election Day in the USA, the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. National Public Radio this morning reported on the rapid decline in religion in this nation. Belief in God is down. Identification with a particular church is down. It appears that hostility and disrespect frequently characterize public conversation about the political, social, and spiritual state of affairs in this country.

But we, reformed, evangelical Christians, do share some common dreams and longings even with those who do not agree with our theology. I think it is fair to say, we all long for a government led by honorable, just leaders, with laws that facilitate the flourishing of every person. Can anyone doubt that, if we somehow could achieve this utopia, we would want it to endure till the end of time?

Israel was not that utopia. The kingdom first established under King Saul benefited from the reigns of David and Solomon, but split in two, under foolish King Rehoboam. Neither the populace nor many of the rulers loved righteousness. Captivity devastated both kingdoms ending with the shameful capture and blinding of King Zedekiah.

But there was a promise. That promise was that a righteous king would rule on an eternal throne. That promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. His kingdom is forever!

Think about it

The readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews were painfully aware of the failure of their nation to establish a permanent, just kingdom. We, too, should know that our nation is not the fulfillment of the promised kingdom. The writer points us to the Only One who could fulfill it, the One who is the Son of God, the radiance of His glory and the exact imprint of his nature. I long for His return and the final fulfillment of the promise. Do you? If so, pray that we will be faithful until that day, and that it may be soon.

Complete in Him

Do you feel incomplete in yourself?  We should, because God’s full deity is in Christ and only in Him are we complete having all we could ever need.

Today’s Reading

 Isaiah 43-44; Colossians 2

Selected Verses

But you have burdened me with your sins;
you have wearied me with your iniquities.

I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins. Isaiah 43:24b-25

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,  and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. Colossians 2:9-10

Reflections

Isaiah describes the sorry spiritual state of Israel.  He expresses God’s weariness with their empty religiosity but also the Lord’s mercy towards them. Yes, He has had enough of their hypocrisy. They have demonstrated again and again that they only go through the motions of repentance as they offer sacrifices. Their best is worthless. But God will not let them go. He will do for them what they cannot do for themselves. He will not blot them out. No! Instead, He will blot out their sins, the sins which have burdened Him. This is the grace and mercy of God.

But how will He do that?  Later, Isaiah will explain how God will do this, without compromising His holiness and justice (Isaiah 53).

Fast forward to Paul’s letter to the Colossians. We find the Apostle laying out for his readers the glories that are found in Jesus Christ. All the deity of God is in Christ. God is fully and completely with us in Christ. Christ is God incarnate, Deity in human flesh. He is filled with wisdom so we need never seek other philosophies. He died and was raised from the dead so that in Him we are raised to life. In Him we are complete, filled, with nothing more to need or long for.

Think about it

This plan of God revealed partially and progressively in the Old Testament and fully and finally in the New brings God all glory and His believing people salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life.   Let nothing and no one delude you, says Paul. Keep walking with Him deeply rooted and built up in Him (2:6-7). Resist the attraction of anything that promises to fill you apart from Christ.  In Him alone we are complete.

Wait till you hear this!

The story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is amazing and inspiring, but it’s nothing compared to what God did next. Wait till you hear this!

Today’s Reading

Psalm 78; Romans 7

Selected Verses

We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.  Psalm 78:4

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. Romans 4:4

Reflections

With the perspective of the New Testament and the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, we could say “Wait till you hear this!” to the Psalmist who reveled in God’s mighty works to Israel. God had done for Israel something unthinkable, unimaginable. He brought ten plagues on Egypt, delivered an enslaved people from that world powerhouse, led them out of the land loaded with spoils, opened up the Red Sea for them to cross, and drowned the pursuing army in the water behind them. This is a story that needs to be told generation after generation.  Pass it on!

But wait till you hear this!

In the New Testament we learn that God took on human flesh and lived on earth. We know Him as Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ, God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. His people rejected Him and crucified Him, but His death bought redemption from the guilt of sin under the law.  His death was not a terrible tragedy but the greatest victory ever accomplished.

How do we know?

He rose again from the dead. Since that time millions have believed in Him. They trust Him, not their own good works, for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life. These millions understand themselves to have died with Him so that His death for sin serves as their death for sin.  They are free from any remaining condemnation because their debt was fully paid by Jesus. As a result, these believers from every nation and language in the world belong to Him and live to bear fruit for God.

Think about it

God delivered a nation of a million people out of Egypt, some 3500 years ago, but in the past 2000 years, right down to today, He has been delivering untold millions of people from spiritual death and slavery to become His fruitful people. Tell the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders that He is doing. Pass it on! Wait till they hear that!

Wanted: Celestial Mediator

The dilemma of fallen man since the Garden of Eden is to learn how to be right before God.  Job called in agony for a celestial mediator. And God answered.

Today’s Reading

Job 7-9; Acts 7:44-60

Selected Verses

Then Job answered and said: “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.” Job 9:1-3

Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.

Acts 7:52-53

Reflections

Job struggles with the reason for his suffering while his would-be comforters heap accusations on him in an effort to explain the frowning providence of God in his life.  Job does not claim to be perfect, but he does not understand how his suffering is punishment that fits the crime.  He recognizes that a man cannot be right before God on his own terms.  But destitution, poverty, bereavement, and relentless pain seems over the top.  “There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both,” moans Job (9:33).  So here God is showing us through Job that there must be a mediator between God and man in order for reconciliation to take place.  That can only be God Himself, His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, God Incarnate.

As Stephen closes his defense, which could also be called a sermon, he indicts the Jewish authorities for their killing of that Mediator.  They have continued in the footsteps of their forebears, resisting the Holy Spirit, persecuting the prophets, and, now, executing the Righteous One, the arbiter that Job longed for.  They prove Stephen’s point by immediately stoning him to death.

Think about it

Two men, Stephen and Job, suffer for their faith.  One is delivered by death almost immediately and the other is made to stagger on in suffering a while longer before experiencing relief.

God has different paths for each of His children to trod, but in the end, those who are His trust Him, do not justify themselves but seek the Arbiter whom the Lord has appointed, Jesus, the Righteous One, who alone can mediate between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5; Acts 4:12).  Walk on trusting Him, my fellow disciple.