Both civil and religious institutions in Christian lands speak to the doctrine of atonement. The ancient Israelite priests "made an atonement" for sin, both for themselves and for the people, at various times during the year, by offering up blood sacrifices. "Phinehas. . .turned [God's] wrath away from the children of Israel. . . because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel" (Num 25:11-13). At a time when voices demand atonement for "high crimes and misdemeanors," through resignation or impeachment of the President of the United States, how can Christians also atone for our own grievous sins? How must Christians clear our sin debt and open the way into God's righteous presence?
by Jerry Gentry
"But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isa. 59:2).
"I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will show them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity" (Jer. 18:17).
Sin is a terrible thing, defined in the Bible in very clear words. The Bible says, "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (1John 3:4). We all know what this means. When we break one of the ten commandments, we have sinned. "Thou shalt not bear false witness" (Exod. 20:16), is clear. Even a five year old boy knows it means "don't tell lies." Sin is sin, and the law of God defines it as such, even when politicians and spin doctors endeavor to obscure such certain truths.
All ten commandments are specific directives from God, which are expressed in clearly defined outward acts which we are either commanded to do, or not to do. Now the Bible goes further and gives a deeper dimension of sin than just lying, or stealing or committing adultery. The Bible moves deep into the human heart in defining sin:
"Whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). Here the apostle Paul adds the dimension of conscience to further define sin. Brother and sister, is your conscience pricked within you today, about personal sin? Yes? Then you need atonement.
In addition to the ten commandments, God has given us all a conscience, a heart, for right and wrong, good and evil, which never supercedes the ten commandments, yet always amplifies these and other laws. When our conscience says no, and we go against our conscience, we have sinned, regardless. Are you living with a guilty conscience today? Are you living in denial of personal sins and offenses against others? Have you made amends to all whom you have offended? Have you broken your baptismal vows? Have you neglected your marriage vows? Then you need to make amends through confession and restitution. Sin will not go away through denial. It will come back to dog your heels for a lifetime, and make your life on earth a living hell. Every genuine believer under headship will be quick to clear himself and atone for personal sin.
"For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God" (1John 3:20-21).
God defines sin as anything we do that is contrary to God's known wishes and clear intentions for our lives. Yes, we were all born in sin, and continue to live in sin, until we shut the door on sin through confession and atonement.
Further defining sin, wise King Solomon teaches: "An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin" (Prov. 21:4). Did you know that every grain of wheat and every head of lettuce that is grown by wicked men is the product of sin? Yes, and that makes most of the food supply of our world sinful, by this Bible definition. Think about it. Do you wonder why our bodies are unhealthy, why our proud population is so prone to sickness, why hospitals are so full of patients, why liberal, high minded politicians push for nationalized health care? One fundamental problem in our world is that "the plowing of the wicked is sin." Wicked men try to circumvent God's organic order to increase economic gain. Call it what you like, but any system of production that fails to acknowledge the built in blessings and cursings of the law of God, will ultimately produce death.
The Bible says, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Yes, every man, woman and child of Adam's race has sinned. Further, "For the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Eternal death, separation from God, in a forever burning hell. What a death! How can we find atonement for our grievous sins that bring on such sure death? How can we turn away the wrath of God, and plead His unfailing mercy? It is through atonement that His mercy proceeds to cover our lives.
"Turn us again, O LORD God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved" (Ps. 80:19), the psalmist declares.
Throughout the Old Testament we read of how the children of Israel were commanded to make atonement for their sins. Sin atoned for required the very life blood of an animal being sacrificed.
"And Moses said unto Aaron, Go unto the altar, and offer thy sin offering, and thy burnt offering, and make an atonement for thyself, and for the people: and offer the offering of the people, and make an atonement for them; as the LORD commanded" (Lev. 9:7).
Even the altar itself required dedication, cleansing and atonement:
"Seven days thou shalt make an atonement for the altar, and sanctify it; and it shall be an altar most holy: whatsoever toucheth the altar shall be holy" (Exod. 29:37). Brother and sister, will you make your sacrifice on a holy altar? Which altar do you service today? Is your life set apart for special use by God? Or do you sacrifice to the gods of sport on the altar of injury; do you worship the god of TV on its altars of lust and mammon; do you serve Hollywood's images and frequent its altars called movie houses? On which altar will you seek your atonement today?
Moses interceded to God for the people, who had worshipped the image of a golden calf, on the twin altars of idolatry and lewdness. "And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin" (Exod. 32:30). The atonement Moses offered appeased the wrath of God for that time and preserved Israel as a nation.
Even sins of ignorance required atonement in ancient Israel. Have we not all sinned ignorantly? Certainly, we have.
"And the priest shall make an atonement for all the congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them; for it is ignorance: and they shall bring their offering, a sacrifice made by fire unto the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their ignorance" (Num. 15:25).
Atonement in ancient Israel was a daily sacrificial affair for the priests: "And thou shalt offer every day a bullock for a sin offering for atonement: and thou shalt cleanse the altar, when thou hast made an atonement for it, and thou shalt anoint it, to sanctify it" (Exod. 29:36).
Further, atonement was a weekly, monthly and annual affair: "For the showbread, and for the continual meat offering, and for the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God" (Neh. 10:33).
When any member of the congregation committed a trespass, he was required to carry his offering to the priest to obtain atonement: "And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin" (Lev. 5:6).
"The priest shall make an atonement for his sin that he hath committed, and it shall be forgiven him" (Lev. 4:35). Note that atonement is made by the priest, and that forgiveness is then received by the individual.
Atonement was also made annually: "And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it [the altar] once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the LORD" (Exod. 30:10).
It is through atonement that the jubilee of 50 years is announced and ushered in: "Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land" (Lev. 25:9).
The law of atonement that sin may be forgiven is established throughout scripture. Sin must be atoned for, but how can we find our atonement today, since we no longer have a priesthood who offers up animal sacrifices?
The writer of Hebrews makes clear that remission is accomplished by atonement through shedding of blood: "And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission" (Hebr. 9:22).
Yes, you and I, friend, require the shedding of blood for remission of our sins. You know that Jesus Christ died on the cross, and shed his blood for you and me. But how can we find personal application of that blood, and receive the atonement for sure?
The apostle Paul answers: "We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement" (Rom. 5:11). Yes, all genuine blood washed born again Christians "have now received the atonement" by faith in Jesus Christ. And if you have already "received the atonement," as Paul teaches, then why do you need the symbols of the body and blood of Christ today? Answer: Christ commands it. "This do in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19).
Every Christian should know that the symbols of the body and blood are in fact symbols or emblems, and not the reality. The awesome reality, the perfection of all blood sacrifices, the atonement of all atonements, occurred almost two thousand years ago, when Jesus Christ became our "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8), "our passover [who] is sacrificed for us" (1Cor. 5:7), our victorious conquering King "being by the right hand of God exalted" (Acts 2:33), giving us a sure hope, "as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (Heb 6:19-20), "which delivered us from the wrath to come" (1Ths. 1:10).
Exactly how have we, as the apostle Paul teaches, already "now received [past tense] the atonement?" How have we applied the blood of the atonement?
At the passover season, we by faith make application of the blood to the door posts of our hearts, whereby we receive a temporary reprieve, so to speak. We are strengthened to learn that, though our sins be many, the LORD has "passed over" us in mercy. He gives us time to make our journey out of sin (Egypt), walk through the Sinai wilderness (through tribulation and fiery trials, we learn to live by the standard of God's law), and victoriously enter into the promised land (receive our glorified bodies in the Kingdom of God). Passover is a reminder that sin is ever with us in this life. Passover connects us with "Christ our passover" (1Cor. 5:7) and reminds us to "keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (v. 8). Passover reminds us of sin and the need to remove it from our lives.
Passover is a perpetual, annual memorial occasion. Then what is the Day of Atonement? Why do we keep it, as well? And why do we take Holy Communion on the Day of Atonement?
The Day of Atonement is the only day is the year when Israel is commanded to fast. "It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever" (Lev. 16:31). It is a day to "afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD" (Lev. 23:27).
How do Israelites afflict their souls? The first requirement is that no food be eaten. Fasting allows for extra time and energy to be spent in the word of God. Fasting is so important on this day that: "For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people" (Lev. 23:29).
With these technical aspects of the Day of Atonement in place, we must learn the purpose of afflicting our souls and adopt the language of the Bible, as our guide:
"Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?" (Isa 58:5). Notice the outward aspects of bowing low and spreading sackcloth and ashes. No matter the personal pain, these outward manifestations do not accomplish God's purposes for atonement by themselves.
"Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?" (v. 6).
Each of these inward failings of the human heart are the emphasis of the fast chosen of God: 1) "To loose the bands of wickedness, 2) to undo the heavy burdens, 3) and to let the oppressed go free, and 4) and that ye break every yoke." The Bible speaks of wickedness and sin as an oppressing burden, a "yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1). To replace sin in our lives, Jesus declares: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matt. 11:29).
The Day of Atonement is also a "sabbath of rest unto you" (Lev. 16:31). Once we "have received the atonement" (Rom. 5:11), we have entered into a special kind of rest:
"There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God" (Heb 4:9).
"For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works [sin and self will], as God did from his" (v. 10).
"Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief" (v. 11).
Though such language may be hard to fully understand, we can make some clear observations: 1) The Day of Atonement is a sabbath of rest in which, "ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all" (Lev. 16:29); 2) We make "an offering made by fire unto the LORD" (Lev. 23:27) by presenting our bodies to Him; 3) By faith, all genuine believers who offer themselves "have received the atonement" and, 4) Through ceasing our own labors of worldliness, sin and self will, we are able then to "take my yoke" and enter into a special rest&emdash;"find rest unto your souls" (Matt. 11:29)&emdash;that is, to find personal fellowship with Jesus Christ, whose blood is our atonement.
Christian, have you today already "received the atonement" that only Jesus Christ, our High Priest, could make? If so, you should in good conscience take the emblems of the bread and wine commonly called Holy Communion. "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come" (1Co 11:26). Atonement for you and me required the death of our Savior. Under your baptismal vows, you promised to fight against the world, against Satan, and against your own personal sin nature. Do you want to renew your baptismal vows today? Is there unconfessed sin in your life today, brother and sister? If so, the Bible says, "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed" (James 5:16). Have you gossiped? Have you spoken evil of others? Have you covered your sin? Have you worshipped habitually on worldly altars? Have you been unfaithful to your baptismal vows and your wedding vows if you are married? If so, the Day of Atonement is the time for you to humble yourself, confess sin, get your heart right with God and pay your vows whereby you can faithfully "shew the Lord's death till he come." You did not make those vows to mere humans. You vowed to God. Will you pay your vows today? Will you make an "offering by fire" of your life to the One who gave His life in atonement for your sin? "Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips" (Hosea 14:2). "For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise" (Psa 51:16-17).
Take words of contrition and speak of repentance. Ask God to burn the chaff of sin from your life. The Psalmist declares: "Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High" (Ps. 50:14). "Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay" (Eccl. 5:5).
Have you "received the atonement" of Christ? If so, then you know that Jesus Christ gave His all for you personally. Not only does He "pass over" your sins, while you make your way out of your personal Egypt of sin and worldliness. He also atoned fully for your sins when He spilled His very blood, to satisfy the righteous wrath and indignation of the Holy Father. He paid sin's ultimate price. He took that blood all the way to the mercy seat in the throne room of heaven. He atoned for your sin, once for all time. There he now makes intercession for you daily. What will you give to Him in return for all He has done for you? Will you give up your life for Him, as he did for you? Examine yourself now, in preparation for taking the emblems of the Lord's body and blood that you may take those emblems worthily.
"For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come" (1Co 11:26).
"Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (v. 27).
"But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup" (v. 28).
"For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body" (v. 29).
"For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (v. 30).
"For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged" (v. 31).
"But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (v. 32).
Friend, Jesus Christ, our High Priest, poured out His precious blood in atonement for your personal sins, at Calvary, once for all time. Have you "received the atonement" by faith, trusting personally in what the Saviour did for you? Then examine yourself now; renew your vows to God; make your amends with fellow Christians you have offended; and rejoice in having "received the atonement" as you take the emblems of His body and blood, and thereby "show the Lord's death till he come."
"Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession" (Heb 4:14).
"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (v. 15).
"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (v. 16).
Your High Priest Jesus Christ suffered the fires of what seemed to be a thousand hells to pay the price of your personal atonement. By His blood alone full atonement is made, but only when you offer yourself even through personal fiery trials to the Master, that is: "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1). The ancient Israelite who sinned brought his offering to the priest, who made the atonement to God. The priest offered up the blood sacrifice. Your own personal High Priest Jesus Christ has offered Himself and made your atonement. He waits for you today. Only when you have truly yielded yourself into God's hands to do His greater will and not your own, do you know for sure that you have "received the atonement." Hallelujah!