The basic concept which serves as the foundation for atonement is that of offering a sacrifice. While people of the first century world were quite familiar with offering sacrifices in worship, twenty-first century Americans are not familiar with the basic attitudes associated with "offering a sacrifice." Two thousand years ago offering sacrifices was primarily associated with "a dependent honoring a superior." The person offering the sacrifice was the dependent. The one receiving the sacrifice was the superior. In the act of giving a sacrificial offering, the inferior declared dependence by honoring the superior.
In twenty-first century America the concept of sacrifice is totally different. Sacrifice today has little to do with a declaration of inferiority, superiority, or submissively honoring a superior person or being. Today the foundation of the American concept of sacrifice is centered on personal privation. Commonly, "I make a sacrifice" by "depriving myself of something that is rightfully mine." It is more the concept of "suffering a loss" than "honoring a superior."
Because of that change, the existing situation means serious Bible students must do two things. First, they must learn the Biblical concept of sacrifice. Second, they must understand and make proper applications of the Bible concept of sacrifice. If they make applications before understanding the concept, their applications likely will be misguided or misdirected.
The problem involves this simple truth but complex reality: the evil which rightfully is a person's responsibility separates him or her from God. Paul, quoting Psalm 14:1-3, stated the problem: "as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one '"(Romans 3:1-12). Paul used this quotation to emphasize the problem and point to the solution: God devised the means for people being righteous by having faith in Jesus Christ. However, a person can appreciate the solution only if he or she realizes the problem.
One significant aspect of allowing an unrighteous person to be united with the God of absolute righteousness is reflected by the word "atonement." While the word "atonement" is used frequently in regard to Israel's animal sacrifices, that word is used infrequently [or not at all] in English translations of the New Testament. The "act of atonement" in Jesus' death is frequently emphasized in the New Testament. In death, Jesus carried our sins in his body (1 Peter 2:24). He poured his blood out for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). God made Jesus sin for us so in him we could become God's righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus was killed because people rebelled against God (Romans 4:25). Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). God demonstrated His love for us by letting Christ die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Jesus' atonement was the reason Paul totally surrendered to Christ (Galatians 2:20). Jesus gave himself for us as an offering, a sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2).
A heart/core component of each of these statements is atonement.
God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. God the righteous atoned for the failures of unrighteous people. The Superior made an atonement sacrifice to benefit the inferiors. He Who deserves all honor atoned for those who deserve no honor. God did the unthinkable! He permanently solved the problems created by evil for all who would accept His solution. The solution was the product of Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection.
The author of Hebrews repeatedly stressed God's atoning sacrifice of Jesus was a permanent solution for all aspects of evil for those in Christ Jesus. Jesus' atoning sacrifice is totally adequate! Jesus' atoning sacrifice forever ends the need for sacrifices! Jewish high priest of necessity repeatedly offered atonement sacrifices. Jesus permanently satisfied the need for atonement sacrifices by offering himself once for all (Hebrews 7:27) Jesus took his own blood into God's holy place once for all. By using his own blood, he produced eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12). Jesus was offered once for the sins of many (Hebrews 9:28). Christians are sanctified by the offering of Jesus' body once for all (Hebrews 10:10). The primary emphasis in Hebrews 10:1-18 is on this fact: Jesus' sacrificial offering of himself produced permanent atonement.
All "the best" person can do is pay for past mistakes, failures, and rebellions. All "the best" person can do is accept the consequences of justice. Nothing "the best" person can do or give creates mercy or grace. God, in Jesus' death and resurrection, gave us what we could not provide for ourselves--mercy and grace. How? God satisfied the demands of justice through the atoning death of his sinless son (Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16; 5:7-10). God offered the perfect sacrifice of atonement for us!
Our Essential Awareness
No human is righteous before God on the basis of personal merit. While we demonstrate our love and appreciation for God through obedience, human obedience does not merit the state of righteousness before God. While we obey God to recognize His superiority, human obedience does not merit the condition of being righteous before God. While we obey God to accept our rightful responsibility of transformation, human achievement does not merit the status of righteous before God. Only being in Jesus Christ, only being clothed with Jesus Christ's righteousness, allows us to appear in God's presence as a righteous person (see Galatians 3:23-29).
Atonement rejects and condemns human arrogance if "we are in Christ." It declares there is no basis for us to act as the eternal judges of others if "we are in Christ." It means we are forgiven by God as a result of His mercy and grace if "we are in Christ." It means we understand without question or complaint that divine mercy, not human deeds, allow us to be God's children. Salvation is the result of trusting God's acts in Jesus' death and resurrection, not the result of our achievements.
Sharing thought: how can we increase Christians confidence in God's atonement created by Jesus' death?
Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 8
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