Atonement Topical Study

<p><strong><span class="heading-lg">Atonement in Scripture</span></strong></p><ul><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/Isaiah%2053%3A5-6%2C%2012">Isaiah 53:5-6, 12</a>, by Jesus&#39; death we are made whole</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/Matthew%2026%3A26-28">Matthew 26:26-28</a>, Jesus institutes the Lord&#39;s Supper</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/Mark%2010%3A45">Mark 10:45</a>, Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for many</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/John%201%3A29">John 1:29</a>, John the Baptist announces that Jesus will take away the sins of the world and calls Jesus the Lamb of God</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/John%2010%3A18">John 10:18</a>, Jesus laid down his life on his own accord</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/Romans%203%3A23-25">Romans 3:23-25</a>, God gave Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/Romans%205%3A10">Romans 5:10</a>, we will be saved through Jesus Christ&#39;s life</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/2%20Corinthians%205%3A21">2 Corinthians 5:21</a>, God made Jesus to be without sin for our sake</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/Hebrews%202%3A17">Hebrews 2:17</a>, Jesus had to become human in every way so that he could be the sacrifice of atonement</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/Hebrews%209%3A12%2C%2026-28">Hebrews 9:12, 26-28</a>, Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/1%20Peter%201%3A18-19">1 Peter 1:18-19</a>, we were ransomed not by silver or gold but by an unblemished lamb</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/1%20Peter%202%3A21">1 Peter 2:21</a>, Christ suffered for us so that we could follow him</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/1%20Peter%202%3A24">1 Peter 2:24</a>, by Christ&#39;s wounds we have been healed</span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/1%20John%202%3A1-2">1 John 2:1-2</a>, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ</span></li><li><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/1%20John%203%3A16">1 John 3:16</a>, &quot;We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us &mdash; and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.&quot;</span></span></li><li><span class="body-copy"><a href="https://preachingandworship.org/search/1%20John%204%3A10">1 John 4:10</a>, &quot;In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.&quot;</span></li></ul><p><strong><span class="heading-lg">Reflections&nbsp;about Atonement</span></strong></p><p><span class="body-copy">Central to the biblical understanding of sin and atonement is that God typically does not &mdash; will not &mdash; simply tolerate human sin. When someone sins, someone must pay. It&#39;s instructive in this respect to note that the fall into sin described in Genesis 3 is followed immediately by the story in Genesis 4 of Cain and Abel bringing offerings to the L<span class="small-caps">ord</span>.</span></p><p><strong><span class="heading-sm">Offerings Are Sacrifices</span></strong></p><p><span style="font-size: 16px;"><span class="body-copy">In making an offering a believer recognizes that all belongs to God, that the offering is a return of God&#39;s gifts, and that it signifies love and devotion to God. That an offering is costly makes it a sacrifice. Because animals were more valuable than cereal, oil, or wine, offering them was a bigger sacrifice for their owner. Therefore, in Old Testament rituals, animals were the usual sacrifice. Because blood was thought to be the most obvious symbol of their life, the Old Testament sacrifices of animals often involve manipulation of their blood.</span></span></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">Leviticus 4 - 6 describe sin and guilt offerings. Those involve the burning of an animal carcass in a prescribed way, and they achieve atonement for the sinners who bring the offering.</span> </span></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">Modern readers of Leviticus may find all the prescriptions for sacrifice bewildering. Why are they so elaborate and detailed? Why are they so important to God? Why did they require an army of priests with exact roles to play? Why is blood spilled, daubed, flung, sprinkled? The world of sacrifice seems to be a world apart from ours.</span></span></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">The sacrifice of a single victim is radical: that&#39;s why the New Testament claim that atonement now depends on the sacrifice of a single victim is radical. In some ways the change is a remarkable simplification &mdash; one victim, one cross-shaped altar, one sacrifice, one death. Yet the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is profound because the one who sacrifices himself is not just an animal, but a man, and not just a man, but also the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. For the first time in sacred history there is a self-sacrificing death inside of God. Two days later, for the first time in sacred history there is a resurrection inside God.</span> </span></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">Jesus Christ&#39;s death is an expiation of human sin. He took human sin upon himself, suffered the penalty of it in an infinitely painful death, and so removed it from sinners. One horrifying verse (2 Cor. 5:21) states that he became sin for us. This is St. Paul&#39;s way of trying to state Jesus&#39;s total identification with the massed sin of the world&#39;s sinners &mdash; all the cruelty, indifference to cruelty, abuse, injustice, betrayal, abandonment, murder. To take all this into himself, to absorb it, amounted to far worse suffering than crucifixion itself. At his lowest, Jesus felt abandoned: &quot;My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?&quot; (Mark 15:34). The Father whose major biblical promise is &quot;I will be with you&quot; seemed absent from Jesus.</span></span></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">Jesus&#39; death is also a propitiation of God&#39;s wrath against sin. God is indignant over sin and sinners. Recall how the prophets describe God&#39;s wrath against injustice to &quot;the quartet of the vulnerable&quot;: widows, orphans, resident aliens, and the poor. <span class="body-copy-sm">(Nicholas Wolterstorff, <em>Justice: Rights and Wrongs </em>(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010)).</span>&nbsp;God&#39;s indignation is real emotion. Jesus himself blazed against injustice and especially against hypocrisy. His death inside God is the triune God&#39;s own move to dissipate his own righteous anger. Dropping his rightful anger is God&#39;s first move in forgiving sinners, and God does this over and over in the history of redemption: &quot;He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency&quot; (Mic. 7:18).</span></span><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"> </span></p><p><strong><span class="heading-sm">Atonement as at-ONE-ment</span></strong></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">Atonement contains the word &quot;one&quot; and so may be partitioned as at-ONE-ment. It&#39;s a chief ingredient in the reconciliation of God and sinful humanity. In the mystery of God&#39;s grace, Jesus&#39;s atoning sacrifice brings God and former enemies of God together. Here we can see one of the great meanings of holy communion. It&#39;s a re-enactment of Jesus&#39;s atoning death, so bread is broken and wine is poured out. These become for believers the body and blood of Christ. Holy communion nourishes the faith of believers, enabling us in the sacrament to feast on Christ, who is given for us. And, like all sacraments, holy communion is a binder: It binds believers to God and to one another.</span> </span></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">Finally, Jesus&#39;s death achieves the redemption of sinners. It&#39;s as if we sinners have gotten ourselves sold into slavery, and Jesus&#39;s death is the price of our redemption. Or it&#39;s as if sinners have gotten themselves into a terrible debt, and Jesus&#39;s death gets them out of it. It&#39;s a kind of ransom. These are all metaphors. In fact, the Bible is chock-full of metaphors for salvation: The lost are found, strangers become citizens, and those who were far away return home.</span> </span></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">Jesus Christ came to put right what we human beings had put wrong by our sin. The Scriptures use a riot of terms and images to describe the force of Jesus&#39;s work, but one way or another they all say that Jesus Christ came to put right what we human beings had put wrong by our sin. We could say Jesus Christ entered the world to offer the penance we refuse. Sinners should do penance for their sins. It&#39;s not that Jesus confessed his own sins, of which there weren&#39;t any. It&#39;s that he acted like a repentant sinner. He got himself baptized, like every sinner. He absorbed accusations. He accepted rebuke without protest. He endured gossip about his choice of friends and his eating and drinking habits. Especially near the end of his life on Earth, Jesus endured the kind of mockery that shreds a person&#39;s dignity. And then, at the end, he died slowly on an instrument the Romans had adopted to kill their enemies after first humiliating them. So on Good Friday, Christians observe the death of a perfect penitent, one who stood under the misery of the world&#39;s sin, who absorbed evil without passing it on, and who therefore cut the terrible lines of lawlessness and revenge that have looped down the centuries from the time of Cain and Lamech.</span></span></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">That was Friday. But &quot;the third day he rose again from the dead&quot; in the central event of the Christian religion and of all human history. Christians who make this confession are talking not about the resurrection of faith in the disciples, or of hope in the women at the tomb, or of tulips in the spring. They are confessing the real resurrection of a horribly dead Jesus.</span></span></p><p><strong><span class="heading-sm">Human Attempts at Atonement</span></strong></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">Our own human attempts at atonement for our sins are spotty. We may apologize to each other and amend our lives to show real repentance. Some of the time we can repair or partly repair the damage we do to each other. Or we may accept a penalty for damage we can&#39;t repair &mdash; a fine, for example, or a jail term. But we often offend and don&#39;t do anything about it. Apology and amendment scuff our pride, so we avoid them. Some of the time we offend without even noticing that we have. And, of course, there are plenty of offenses &mdash; child abuse, for example &mdash; for which there isn&#39;t any adequate atonement by mere human beings.</span> </span></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">Our need to atone is great, but our ability to atone is meager. For some offenses, we may seek reparation through a surrogate &mdash; paying a fine, for example. But plenty of offenses require us to do the work ourselves, from apology to amendment of our lives to going to jail. Here we may find ourselves in a familiar bind: Our need to atone is great, but our ability to atone is meager.</span> </span></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">Hence, we need the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Over centuries, Christians have pondered the atonement. Why do human beings so badly need atonement? Why couldn&#39;t God have avoided the painful death of Christ and just declared a general amnesty for sinners? What, exactly, did Jesus&#39;s death do within the life of God? Was Jesus&#39;s death the only option available to God? If so, why? If not, why did God choose this way &mdash; the way of cross and resurrection? Is atonement best thought of as an act of redemption from bondage, victory over evil powers, payment of what is owed (to whom?), satisfaction of the demands of justice, or an example for us humans to follow? And how, exactly, do the life, death, and resurrection of Christ benefit us? After all, we are personal, moral agents distinct from him.</span> </span></p><p><span style="font-size: 13.008px;"><span class="body-copy">Theological discussions of atonement are often difficult and leave lingering mysteries. Fortunately for us sinners, we don&#39;t have to understand atonement all the way through in order for it to work.</span></span></p>