In the early history of the Israelite people, God authorized a day of atonement (Leviticus 16). On this day, the high priest entered the most holy place inside the tabernacle. First, he atoned for his own sins with animal blood. Then, as the purified high priest, he entered a second time before the mercy seat and cherubim with animal blood to atone for the nation's sins. The purpose of this day was the conscious separation of God's people from sin. God authorized the practices which centered on two events: sacrifices for sin and a scape goat [or goat of removal]. As you read Leviticus 16, carefully note this emphasis: the sins of Israel were transferred to the scape goat. On this occasion, God's forgiveness purified Israel. The removal of their sin allowed them to be pure. God's forgiveness was real, but it was a temporary solution to a continuing problem (see Hebrews 10:1-4). The day was [God's intention] to be a conscious separation of Israel from their sins. However, it became a day of remembrance of their need. The day became a symbol of spiritual failure because it was not a permanent solution.
God's achievements in Jesus' sacrifice followed the pattern of Israel's day of atonement. Jesus was God's permanent sin offering and eternal scape goat. God's actions produced a permanent solution (see Hebrews 10:10; 9:12,14; 9:23-28. Note the emphases on the permanence of Jesus' sin offering, the cleansing of the conscience, and the "once for all" nature of Jesus' atonement).
First, we must understand God is absolute, perfect holiness and purity. Humans do not grasp those concepts. We never experienced or saw absolute, perfect holiness or purity. We are accustomed to evil in us. We are thoroughly acclimated to evil's presence. Often we do not even "see" or "recognize" evil as evil. We even justify evil's presence as "natural," "the way the world works," "the way people are," "understandable" or "acceptable," and "being real." What humans consider holy and pure is far from what the pure, holy God knows to be pure and holy. Evil in any form is the opposite of God. The holy God cannot tolerate evil. James told Christians not to blame God for temptations to do evil because (a) it is impossible for evil to tempt God [the holy God's purity is repulsed by any form of evil] and (b) the holy, pure God does not use evil's lure (James 1:12, 13).
Second, when the pure, holy Jesus was allowed to be covered with our sins, the son in whom God was well pleased became the son God could not watch. When Jesus' body was clothed in the sins of humanity (1 Peter 2:24), the presence of the holy, pure God could not remain in him. Because Jesus sinned? No! (See Hebrews 3:14,15) Because Jesus wore our sins in his body! Evil and the holy God cannot coexist in the same place or the same person! Just as God allowed the transfer of Israel's sins to the scape goat, God allowed the transfer of humanity's sin to the dying Jesus.
Jesus felt this transfer. Though he had never sinned, had never rebelled against God, had never rejected God's will or purposes in anything, he died with the feelings of a human who had sins. Our sins separated Jesus from God. In his anguish, he quoted Psalm 22:1 as he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" In death, Jesus experienced the ultimate human experience: he was covered with sin and separated from God. He endured this horrible experience in order to become humanity's opportunity for permanent atonement before the pure, holy God.
Paul stated what happened when Jesus died to the Corinthian Christians. Remember, Paul wrote to Christians. He told these Christians with many spiritual problems, who without opposition allowed evil to express itself in their motives and actions, God wanted reconciliation, not confrontation. How much did God want this reconciliation? God wanted reconciliation so much that He did the unthinkable. God made Jesus to be sin! (2 Corinthians 5:21) God allowed His own son to be sin! God did not do that for His own sake. God did not do that for Jesus' sake. God did that for our sake. That is how committed God is to reconciliation with humanity! God did that so we who are Christians could be the righteousness of God. In Christ unholy people can be forgiven. In Christ forgiven people can belong to the holy God.
If people love God for what He did and does for them in Christ, they cannot knowingly, willingly, freely do, feel, and think the things that cause God grief! They cannot knowingly, willingly, freely do, feel, and think the things that demanded God make Jesus sin so we could be forgiven! When you love someone, you do not knowingly, deliberately cause them unbearable pain and intense grief! That was Paul's message to Corinthian Christians who were living and interacting in ungodly ways! That is Paul's message to Christians today when we live and interact in ungodly ways!
We can live in God's presence because we are forgiven. We can be forgiven because God atoned for us. God transferred our sins to the sinless Jesus to create our opportunity to live in God's perfect atonement for our evil.
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 2
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