Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Gift of Atonement

Watch the Sermon VIDEO here

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets.  And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.  The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.  This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names.  Hebrews 1:1-4(NLT)
And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about.  For in one place the Scriptures say, “What are mere mortals that you should think about them, or a son of man that you should care for him?  Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.  You gave them authority over all things.”  Now when it says “all things,” it means nothing is left out.  But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority.  What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.”  Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone.  God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory.  And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.  So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father.  That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.  For he said to God, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.  I will praise you among your assembled people.”  Hebrews 2:5-12(NLT)
The writer of Hebrews uses a word later in the chapter[2] that calls us back to the genuine focus of the table, hilaskomai is translated as atonement (ἱλάσκομαι - to conciliate, that is, (transitively) to atone for (sin), or (intransitively) be propitious:—be merciful, make reconciliation for[3]). 

With that word we move from the Christmas tree to the cross. 

Atonement is what happened to our sin problem on the cross; it is what blotted-out the stain of original sin.  God was merciful towards all human beings in doing something which was impossible for us to do – forgive our sin. 

To be forgiven is not something anyone can do for himself; it has to come from the outside. 

The “simple” definition (if there is to be anything simple with so complex an issue) is that we are all guilty of sin – God knows it and, because of His righteousness, must judge it – but God chooses to forgive us by grace.  The “debt” of sin is still a reality – someone must “atone” or pay the price; God decided to do just that by coming to us and dying for us. 

That’s what the manger was about; that’s the reason for the cross!  God came in grace and mercy to do something about our sin.   He didn’t come so we could sing about the sweet little baby, born in a stable – he came to die a violent sacrificial atoning death…so we could live!

The Difference

Two true stories illustrate the difference between life with or without the forgiveness Jesus came to bring with his Advent and Atonement:

Life without Forgiveness

In Bristol, England nearly 25 years ago… 10 ten year-old boys led a little toddler down a railway embankment and smashed his head in, leaving his body on the railway line. 
The story of the killing of Jamie Bulger was one of those events which made everyone look again at what it means to be human. Jamie’s killers were just children themselves, yet they were capable of this.  They were not psychotic; nor were they any more disturbed than many other children.  
The anger and desire for vengeance that came up against them was almost tangible….  They were children at the time of the murder, but spent the rest of their childhood away from their families in an institution, locked away from the rest of society.  When the possibility for release came about Jamie Bulger’s mother wanted them to be locked up for the rest of their lives.  She argued that her child cannot walk free back into her arms.  Those boys took her son’s life; they should not have their lives.  Even if they were released, there was a strong risk that they might get killed by vigilantes, so in one respect they will never be truly free.[4]
Our sin is just as “first-degree” as that group of boys who snuffed out the life of a toddler. 

And, we are just as captive by the penalty of our sin as they are of their prison made with iron bars.  Without forgiveness, we are slaves to sin and death; no chance of parole from eternal death!  Forgiveness requires atonement.

The Forgiven Life

The second true story is from Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a famous plastic surgeon:

One day, a woman came to see Dr. Maltz about her husband.  She told the doctor that her husband had been injured while attempting to save his parents from a burning house.  He couldn't get to them.  Both parents died, and the son’s face was burned and disfigured.  He had given up on life and gone into hiding.  He wouldn't let anyone see him - not even his wife. 

Dr. Maltz told the woman not to worry.  With the great advances we've made in plastic surgery in recent years, he said, I can restore his face.

She explained that he wouldn't let anyone help him because he believed God disfigured his face to punish him for not saving his parents.  Then she made a shocking request:  I want you to disfigure my face so I can be like him!  If I can share in his pain, then maybe he will let me back into his life.  I love him so much; I want to be with him. And if that is what it takes; then that is what I want to do.

Of course, Dr. Maltz would not agree, but he was moved deeply by that wife's determined and total love.  He got her permission to try to talk to her husband.  He went to the man's room and knocked, but there was no answer.  He called loudly through the door, I know you are in there, and I know you can hear me, so I've come to tell you that my name is Dr. Maxwell Maltz.  I'm a plastic surgeon, and I want you to know that I can restore your face.

There was no response.  Again, he called loudly, Please come out and let me help restore your face.  But again, there was no answer.  Still speaking through the door, Dr. Maltz told the man what his wife was asking him to do.  She wants me to disfigure her face, to make her face like yours in the hope that you will let her back into your life. That's how much she loves you.  That's how much she wants to help you!

There was a brief moment of silence, and then ever so slowly, the doorknob began to turn.  The disfigured man came out to make a new beginning and to find a new life. He was set free, brought out of hiding, and given a new start by his wife's love.  It's a dramatic expression of human love that gives us a picture, however faint, of the saving love of Jesus Christ, what we call the Atonement.[5]

That’s what this table is for…atonement, because of the great love Jesus has for you; it brings forgiveness and freedom…for you! 
So, come and dine…In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

[1] Title Image: Gustave Doré, via Wikimedia Commons
[2] Hebrews 2:17
[3] Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries ©2003, QuickVerse
[4]HomileticsOnline.com quoting Paul Roberts, “Sacrifice of blood and lives,” November 19, 2000, Cothan Parish Church Web Site,cotham.bristol.anglican.org. Reprinted with permission.
[5]HomileticsOnline.com, quoting Maxie Dunnam, This Is Christianity (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 60-61.

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