Posts Tagged ‘atonement for sin’

Deuteronomy 21:1-9

Cleansing for an Unsolved Murder

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as the old cliché goes, “would have a cow” over this passage. Here, we have probably a young cow that has not yet been yoked just minding his oblivious brain’s business and the next thing ya know, he is being led down to a nearby stream or river and, bam, his neck is broken. Game over. This passage is one of those that is hard to explain in the modern world of the 21st century. Bart Simpson would tell PETA “don’t have a cow, man!” Why in the world does God tell His people to break the neck of a cow as some type of penance for not knowing who to blame for a murder? Seems kind of a random thing to do by today’s standards.

 

I think that the only way to understand this passage is to think of an illustration. The one that comes to mind is when you child gets in trouble. Like when they get in trouble with a neighbor for breaking something on the neighbor’s property. You are called to come get your kid. Then, it is explained to you what the child has done. You stand up for your kid and offer to pay for the damages caused by your child. It’s going to cost you money and/or time to put things back the way they were at your neighbor’s house and it’s going to inconvenience you. It’s also going to cause you to have to repair the relationship with the neighbor so that your neighbor will not treat your child harshly (because of one act of negligence in the past) in the future. Inside your house, you are going to discipline your child but there is no way that you were going to let the neighbor do that. Inside your house, there will be ways in which you will cause your child to see the error of their ways. You may even force them to apologize to the neighbor. However, you will have paid the price for the damage done, not the child. You paid the price so your child would not have to.

 

In my life, I can only harken back to the time (and I have written about it before here) when my friend, Donnie, and I vandalized the elementary school in Travelers Rest, SC by tearing the phone wires out of the junction box that took the phone lines from the street and joined them to the internal phone wiring of the building. We got caught. The only thing that prevented us from being sentenced to time in juvenile detainment was that my dad and Donnie’s dad paid to have the phone wiring repaired that the school. My dad and Donnie’s dad were innocent of any wrongdoing, but they sacrificed their hard-earned money to cover our lapse in judgement.

 

Similarly, in my life, more recently, there is someone who is dear to me that seems unable to see that finding a job is a priority in her life. This person gets mad at me for constantly hounding her about how she is living her life. She is very capable of having a life that is more than just a hand-to-mouth existence, but every day she waits to get a job the harder it becomes. She would rather do odd jobs here and there. She would rather sleep late every day and stay up all night. She won’t speak to me for months and months because she knows how I feel about the lifestyle she is leading. She is so smart and could have been a leader in some business setting by now. She knows how I feel so she ignores me. Until. She ignores me until she needs money. I am her fallback position. When the lights get cutoff at her place or the water gets cut off after 3-6 months of non-payment, she comes to me for more than a thousand dollars to help get these utilities turned back on. I was told my friends and family not to do it and that she needs to learn. But tears of a dear one will crumple a soft heart and all the bluster of anger. I keep paying the price for her mistakes and she goes back to ignoring me…until the next crisis. How many times will I sacrifice for this loved one?

 

That idea of a sacrifice of an innocent cow for something that someone else did, how sometimes we sacrifice for our kids when they have done something wrong so that they do not get punished by others, or how we sometimes sacrifice for loved ones even though they do not warrant our help is what I thought of this morning when I read:

 

21 If someone is found slain, lying in a field in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who the killer was, 2 your elders and judges shall go out and measure the distance from the body to the neighboring towns. 3 Then the elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has never been worked and has never worn a yoke 4 and lead it down to a valley that has not been plowed or planted and where there is a flowing stream. There in the valley they are to break the heifer’s neck. 5 The Levitical priests shall step forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister and to pronounce blessings in the name of the Lord and to decide all cases of dispute and assault. 6 Then all the elders of the town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, 7 and they shall declare: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. 8 Accept this atonement for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, Lord, and do not hold your people guilty of the blood of an innocent person.” Then the bloodshed will be atoned for, 9 and you will have purged from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood, since you have done what is right in the eyes of the Lord.

 

Just think how important cows were in ancient Israel. Just think about how important cows are in rural, farming communities today. They are money to the farmer. They are work animals to the farmer. They are extremely important to him, maybe even more so in ancient Israel. The amount of farm animals that a person had in ancient Israel was an indication of wealth. In economies where cash is not yet the primary medium of economic exchange, property signifies wealth. Property was a medium of exchange. I will give you these cows for that grain and so on. So, to give up a cow for a sacrifice was a big deal. It would be for a farmer today too. It had better be for a good purpose. Here, the sacrifice is to atone for a murder for which we could find no one to blame. Someone gets away with a murder but a price must be paid for loss of life. The sacrifice of the cow, God knew, was a big deal. He wanted the people to understand that they should exhaust every effort to solve murders and have the rightful person pay for it. However, there are times where they could not find the person who did it. So, a sacrifice of atonement for the purposeful loss of life had to be done.

 

This sacrifice to me point us toward Jesus Christ. He, himself, was blameless and innocent. He had done nothing but live a sinless life and pointed us all toward a right relationship with God. He died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. We are the blame-ful ones. He is the blame-less one. Jesus was led to slaughter to make atonement for the ugliness and unsolvable nature of our sins. Our sins are the unsolved problem that we have with God. We cannot exist in His presence because of our sin. God said though that sending His Son to the death He did not deserve on the cross was His way of pouring out His wrath against sin rather than pouring it out against us, as we deserved. Jesus was the innocent that was slaughtered. He protects us from the punishment we deserve. He sacrificed for us even though we often ignore Him. He sacrifices for us even when we don’t appreciate what He did. He has sacrificed for us even before we come to know Him. He love us that much that He sacrificed His life for us for the possibility that we would one day come to appreciate it – come to Him and proclaim Him our Lord and Savior. The cow did not deserve to die for something somebody else did. Jesus did not deserve to die for our sins. He was innocent. However, He offered Himself up for us as a way to reconcile us to the Father. He did so willingly to atone for our sins. He knew we did not deserve it, but He did it anyway. Just like a parent lovingly sacrificing for their child even though the child does not deserve the grace being shown by the parent. That’s love. There is no greater love than the love that Jesus Christ has for us. Amen and Amen.

 

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Numbers 29:7-11

Offerings for the Day of Atonement

Have you ever had a problem with your house or your car that you could not afford to permanently fix so you take the cheap route and temporarily fix it but keep having to fix it again and again. For example, with my wife’s car, we keep burning through headlamps on the driver’s side of the car at a rate that is alarming. We know that there is an electrical issue on that side of her Mazda 3, but the permanent fix will expose us to a great expense – first to simply figure out what exactly is wrong and then to fix it permanently. Because the engine compartment of a Mazda 3 is so small and jam-packed, it is hard to easily fix most engine problems. Even with the headlamp on the driver’s side of the car, you practically have to remove the battery of the car to even get to the headlamp casing.  It’s a great car and has given us very little trouble otherwise. It has 138,000-plus miles on it now and still runs like a brand new car otherwise, but to fix or replace anything on it, the mechanics pretty much have to drop the engine out of it to fix it.

 

So, why would fixing an electrical problem be any different than the complex? To assess the reason for the continuing replacement of headlamps, they would have to take the bumper off the car, remove the battery from behind the headlamp casing and then begin to follow the wires and test them. Then, when proper wire is identified, that leads to a complex process of removing it from the tight spaces and replacing it. As you can imagine, the expense would be pretty large for just a problem with a headlight. Over the eight years, Elena has had this car (she bought it about a year or so before we got married), we have had to replace that one side of the car’s headlamp at least nine or ten times. There is some kind of electrical surge, or flare-up of an electrical short, or just an ongoing issue of too much electricity for the lamp that causes us to burn through at least one lamp a year. Because of the heady expense of finding and fixing the problem permanently, we fix it with the temporary solution of new headlamps over and over and over again – as I said at least once per year. It is frustrating because we love that little car. It is, like I said, otherwise a great little car. We have driven that car all over the place and it is probably the most reliable car either one of us has ever owned. The headlamp problem is vexing one. Like this year, the headlamp didn’t go out until it started getting darker earlier in the evening. Thus, with our busy schedules with work and church, Elena often here in the last few weeks would get stuck driving in the dark with one functioning headlamp until she had time to go get it fixed.

 

Like I said even the simple, less costly fix is a chore. A person who is not a mechanic such as Elena and me cannot even replace the headlamp on the driver’s side without great effort. The car’s battery is right behind the driver’s side headlamp. Only my three month old granddaughter’s hand would fit in that space and Ralyn is uncooperative when it comes to fixing headlamps – being 3 months old and all and for some reason 3 month old babies lack the motor skills to take care of the issue even if they were able to stick their hand between the headlight and battery! LOL. Thus, when that particular headlamp burns out, we have to take it to our local trustworthy auto repair shop to just replace a headlamp. We play this song and dance at least once a year. It is frustrating but it is the best solution we have available until we decide to sink the funds into permanently solving the issue.

 

That idea of temporary solutions vs. permanent ones with regard to Elena’s Mazda 3 is what came to mind when I thought of the celebration of the Day of Atonement as I read through the sacrificial offerings list for this holy day in the life of Israel. That may not make sense at first, but stick with me on this and you will see how replacing headlamps at least once a year and the Day of Atonement have in common. Let us read through the list of sacrificial offerings that were to be made on the Day of Atonement here in this passage, Numbers 29:7-11, and then we will talk about what he Day of Atonement is. At the end, we will tie it altogether with Elena’s Mazda 3. Let’s jump in to the journey now:

 

7 “‘On the tenth day of this seventh month hold a sacred assembly. You must deny yourselves[a] and do no work. 8 Present as an aroma pleasing to the Lord a burnt offering of one young bull, one ram and seven male lambs a year old, all without defect. 9 With the bull offer a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with oil; with the ram, two-tenths; 10 and with each of the seven lambs, one-tenth. 11 Include one male goat as a sin offering, in addition to the sin offering for atonement and the regular burnt offering with its grain offering, and their drink offerings.

 

The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27-28), also known as Yom Kippur, was the most solemn holy day of all the Israelite feasts and festivals, occurring once a year on the tenth day of Tishri, the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. On that day, the high priest was to perform elaborate rituals to atone for the sins of the people. Described in Leviticus 16:1-34, the atonement ritual began with Aaron, or subsequent high priests of Israel, coming into the holy of holies, the place where the priest would encounter the presence of God. The solemnity of the day was underscored by God telling Moses to warn Aaron not to come into the Most Holy Place whenever he felt like it, only on this special day once a year, lest he die (v. 2). This was not a ceremony to be taken lightly, and the people were to understand that atonement for sin was to be done God’s way.

 

Before entering the tabernacle, Aaron was to bathe and put on special garments (v. 4), then sacrifice a bull for a sin offering for himself and his family (v. 6, 11). The blood of the bull was to be sprinkled on the ark of the covenant. Then Aaron was to bring two goats, one to be sacrificed “because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been” (v. 16), and its blood was sprinkled on the ark of the covenant. The other goat was used as a scapegoat. Aaron placed his hands on its head, confessed over it the rebellion and wickedness of the Israelites, and sent the goat out with an appointed man who released it into the wilderness (v. 21). The goat carried on itself all the sins of the people, which were forgiven for another year (v. 30).

 

Being created beings, even an umblemished animal was coming from a place of a sin nature. Even nature groans under the weight of sin resulting from the sins of Adam and Eve. Thus, these animals, though unblemished were not perfect and were not born of perfection. As a result, the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement had to be repeated each year. For the Jews, it was a day of focusing on rededicating their lives to God and asking for forgiveness of the sins they had committed in the previous year. Because of God’s greater redemptive plan, the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement were symbolic of the future plan. He would only grant atonement through the sacrifices for one year so that the people would yearn for a permanent solution. Jesus Christ was that permanent solution.

 

The blood of bulls and goats could only atone for sins if the ritual was continually done year after year, while Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for all the sins of all who would ever believe in Him. When His sacrifice was made, He declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He then sat down at the right hand of God, and no further sacrifice was ever needed (Hebrews 10:1-12). Since Jesus was God in the flesh and he was conceived in a virgin womb, he was never touched by sin even in his conception. Then, living the perfectly sinless life, he was the first and only ever completely perfect sacrifice for sin. It was quite the investment by God. It required Him coming down from heaven and living among us and then offering Himself up on the cross to taking the wrath of God against sin (as was previously symbolized by the blood of the bull and the taking on of the sins by the scapegoat). God poured out his wrath against sin on Jesus and His blood was spilled as the permanent atonement for sin, past, present and future. Only Jesus, as God in the flesh, could withstand to pain and loss of taking on God’s wrath against sin for all time on the cross that day. Only Jesus was complete perfection. Only God in the flesh was sufficient to end the cycle of sacrifices. After His sacrifice on the cross, there was no need for sacrifices anymore. It is done and it is finished.

 

Just as replacing the headlamp periodically on our Mazda 3 is the temporary solution that fixes the problem for sometimes up to a year, so were the Day of Atonement sacrifices. They were temporary. The process had to be repeated because it was not the permanent solution. Just as the permanent solution to our headlamp problem would require a larger investment of time (doing without the car for up to a week) and money to solve the problem permanently, the only way that a permament solution to the atonement for sin could happen was through the great investment of Jesus Christ in setting aside his glory for a time and coming to earth to become the permanent sacrifice for sin. Just as the more expensive solution would permanently fix the headlamp problem in our car, Jesus was the greatest sacrifice of all and it permanently fixes the sin problem of mankind. All we have to do is humble ourselves before Christ and proclaim Him to be the sufficient sacrifice for our sins and believe that He is our Lord and Savior and the living God. Once we accept Christ as our Savior, Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and work to guide us to be more and more Christ-like until such time that we are perfected when we join Jesus in heaven. The work of the Holy Spirit takes a lifetime but because we have Jesus’ sacrifice we are covered for our imperfections and sins. Our sins become more and more revolting to us as the Holy Spirit does His work in us, but the penalty of our sins has been already paid by the permanent solution of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice was most costly to God but it was the necessary and permanent solution to our sin problem.

 

Amen and Amen.

Luke 24:32-43 — Jesus on the cross. Jesus dying on the cross. We understand from Scripture that this fact is significant. Scripture tells us that Jesus dying on the cross is what reconciles us to God. When I was a non-believer I could grasp that Jesus was a great man. I could grasp that His death on the cross was a travesty of human justice. I could grasp that He was a holy man of God that spoke great truths of the universe. I could grasp that He was so committed to the truth that He risked his life to call out that which claimed to be holy as unholy. I could grasp that He spoke of peace and love and not war and hate in a world built on war and hate. I could grasp that all of these factors, truth, candor, peace made Him a rebel in his day. To me when I was a non-believer, he was the original flower child much like the hippees of the 60’s. To me, I admired Him as an anti-establishment rebel that through his love not war attitude changed the world much like the counterculture of the late 60’s-early 70s changed our nation forever. Much like the racial equality movement of that same time changed the face of our nation forever as well. As a non-believer, I could see Jesus marching in anti-war protests of the 60’s, marching arm in arm with His black friends from Selma to Montgomery. That was the Jesus that I grasped. I grasped a rebel Jesus who was martyred for being different, for fighting for change, and through whose death the world was changed. That was the Jesus I grasped.

However, as a non-believer, I just could not grasp the Christian theology that Jesus’ death on the cross was for me. I just could not grasp that Him hanging on the cross was for the forgiveness of my sins. How does a man dying on the cross reconcile me to God, I asked myself? It all boils down to who do you think Jesus is. If Jesus was just a man…if Jesus was just a rebel fighting against injustice and the status quo who was killed for it…if Jesus was just another prophet who was killed…if Jesus was a cool dude that was super-perceptive about life…if Jesus was just…then it does not make sense. If Jesus was just these things, then this whole Christian thing built on Him dying on the cross does not make any sense at all. Jesus dying on the cross was just the end of a cool dude’s life and then the church fabricated the resurrection thing. It just doesn’t make any sense if Jesus was just…a man.

However, Jesus was not just a man. He was the Son of God. He was God in the flesh. He was part of the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit that has existed since before creation. It was through Him that the universe was made. That’s the part that takes faith. And that faith is what makes sense of the cross. His death on the cross makes senses when you realize that Jesus was the Son of God and that He and the Father were one and were of the same essence. This makes the cross make sense.

Beginning in Egypt we see God pointing us toward the cross. Jesus is the Passover Lamb. During the final plague in Egypt, God commanded the Israelites to paint the blood of an innocent pure lamb on their doorway so that the death plague would passover their homes. This points to Jesus on the cross. His blood was spilled so that we might live. The Old Testament sacrificial system instituted at Mt. Sinai taught the Israelites and us about Jesus. Animals were sacrificed as atonement for sin. The animals spilled their blood for forgiveness of sin because that’s God said it was for. The animals took the punishment for sin that the sinner deserved. God was pointing us toward his ultimate act on the cross in Jesus.

We have all done things that are wrong and we have failed to live up to God’s laws – his expectations for holiness from us as He is holy. Sin, just one sin, separates us from God. It does not matter how we justify it or how much good we do, our sin, any sin, taints us and makes us imperfect. Imperfection cannot exist in the presence of God. Once we have sinned there is nothing we can do ourselves to make ourselves clean. It is like squirting flavor additives into clear water. Once you have squirted the colored additive into the water, you cannot make it clear again no matter what you do. Sin is that way for us. Thus, there is a permanent separation for us from God because of this sin imperfection from the first time we think of sinning. We need help. And it is only when we realize that we are helpless that we are ready to understand what Jesus did on the cross that is so important to us. That is so important that its news spread out from the cross around the globe and through the centuries.

Jesus was not only a man. He was also God in the flesh acting as the Son of the Father. OK. Why then still does his death on the cross mean? It all goes back God’s sacrificial system. Jesus is the culmination of that. The animals used in the passover and the sacrifices at the Tabernacle and later the Temple had to be pure and spotless to be used to atone for the sinner’s sin. Jesus was pure and spotless. He never sinned. Thus, this made Him the only sacrifice ever that was truly perfect, spotless, and sinless. Because He lived a sinless life and never disobeyed the Father in any way then his sacrifice of His life was the culminating atonement for sin. It did not have to be repeated anymore like the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. Jesus was the final sacrifice for sin. He is the Passover Lamb of all Passover Lambs. He is the Sin Sacrifice of Sin Sacrifices.

On the cross, He was thus sacrficed for sin. He became all sin of all time, past, present and future. He took on the full wrath of God against the imperfection of sin for all time. Jesus who had existed for eternity with the Holy Spirit and the Father was now separated from that one essence, that unity that He had known for all eternity. That is why when taking on the full wrath of sin for all time, he exclaims in all four gospels, Father why have you abandoned me. He, on the cross, was substituting Himself for man’s sins of all time and He was alone bearing that heavy burden. He was separated from the loving trinity that He had known since before what we know as time begin. It is through His death that the sacrificial system is completed. It is finished at the cross. Jesus bore the punishment for all sin for all time on the cross. Thus, it is finished. The job is complete at the cross. When we have the faith to believe this, that is where we can say that Jesus has already paid the price for our sin on the cross. He paid our debt and we are released from the impurity and imperfection of sin that condemns us to eternal separation from God in hell. We are redeemed from slavery through his payment made at the cross.

That is the only way that the cross makes sense. There is indeed a God who created the universe and created man. He gave man free will to choose to worship God not as robots but as knowledgeable humans making choices. With the risk of free will came the ability to listen to evil in the form of Satan. When the first sin in Adam occurred, it set mankind on a course of self-destruction from which we cannot extricate ourselves. Sin stains us and changed everything. With our sin nature passed down from Adam to us, we cannot help ourselves. We sin. We cannot help ourselves. With that first sin, we permanently taint ourselves and separate ourselves from God. With sin, it is a permanent stain. No matter how much good we try to do, it is like trying to get a wine stain out of white shag carpet. It will never be same. We become imperfect and ineligible for existing in the presence of our Creator with our first sin not to mention the mounds of sins we pile up in our lifetime due to our sin nature. We can’t clean it. We can’t fix it. We are truly screwed. We are up crap creek without a paddle. There is only one thing that can change that. It is Jesus who is the culmination of God’s sacrificial system instituted in the Old Testament. He is the permanent fix to our sin problem. Jesus lived the sinless life and sacrificed himself in our place on the cross. He bore the punishment that you and I deserve for our first and the rest of our sins. When we believe on this fact. We are freed from condemnation to hell that we deserve for our sins. Hell is where we are separated from God and live eternally in flesh eating, teeth gnashing, wailing, burning, nothingness separated from God. That is what we deserve for what we have made of ourselves and the world we live in. When we believe on Jesus, He frees us from our death sentence. In Him, we know that we will be able to join Him in heaven in the presence of the God and know eternal joy. We know in Him that there will be an end to this madness that we live in. We know that in our physical death we will join Him in eternity. We know that in the end that Jesus will redeem His creation and conquer evil once and for all. In Him, there is hope.

That is why the cross makes sense to me now. I grasp who Jesus is. He is my Savior. He is the Son of God. He is God in the flesh who loves you and me enough to break into the history of His creation and offer Himself up as as sacrifice for your and my sins so that we can be redeemed from death in Hell. That’s why the cross makes sense. Do you get it?