God's End Game - Part 23
Series: My Preaching Bucket List
April 28, 2019
As we continue through our series on God’s End Game, where we are looking at the Bible for clues on what God is up to with us and the world, we have settled in midway on the person and life of Jesus.
All of God’s End Game pivots on him. He is the apex of the arc of what God is doing to redeem his good world gone bad and bring us back into relationship with him. God’s end game plan revolving around Jesus has three telescoping parts, one flowing from the other.
It begins with the INCARNATION. Which we just finished looking at.
It climaxes with the CRUCIFIXION. Which we start exploring today.
It carries on with the RESURRECTION.
We’ve already covered the incarnation, where Jesus is literally God with us as one of us.
We are now looking at the crucifixion, and we’ve limited our focus to one question.
What did it do?
What did Jesus’ death on the cross accomplish?
For a really long time we Christians have limited the answer to one thing:
Jesus was crucified on the cross to save me from my sins so I can go to heaven when I die.
That’s true for the most part, but it’s so much more than that.
I borrowed something from a theology book, something that sums up what Jesus accomplished on the cross well…
Jesus’s death by crucifixion was a divinely ordained historical event by which he lovingly accomplished atonement, purchased Christians’ freedom from sin’s bondage, won their justification before the Father, and triumphed over Satan’s tyranny.
Last time we covered the first part, how the crucifixion was a…
Divinely ordained historical event.
That means God willed for it to happen before it ever happened. God is the only one who can do that.
Remember what Paul wrote to the Christian at Corinth…
1 Corinthians 15:3 (ESV) — 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
That’s another way of saying the cross was divinely ordained.
We saw how the cross was ordained in Genesis 3:15.
We saw how the cross was ordained in the whole sacrificial system of the Jews with the Passover lamb. More on that in a minute.
We saw how the cross was ordained in Isaiah 53 where the Messiah was to be wounded for our transgressions and by his stripes we’d be healed.
Now let’s go back to our theological definition and unpack the next part. Jesus’s death by crucifixion was a divinely ordained historical event…
by which he lovingly accomplished atonement
Atonement. That’s definitely a theological word. Most of us probably have an idea of what it means but would be hard pressed to give someone a good definition.
Interestingly, the word atonement doesn’t appear in the NT, even though the concept is there in a big way. To understand the biblical idea of atonement, we have to go back to the OT.
The Hebrew word for atone means at its root to cover or hide. OT writers used it in the sense that someone’s guilt (as in breaking God’s law) would be covered or hidden so they wouldn’t have to suffer a penalty.
The way their sins were atoned for (covered) was through the spilling of an animal’s blood (such as a lamb or goat), through the sacrificial system. The guilt offerings in the book of Leviticus outlined how individuals had their sins atoned for by sacrificing animals.
There was also the Day of Atonement where the priest sacrificed one goat for the sins of the people and lay hands on another goat, the scapegoat, who carried the sins of the people outside the city and into the wilderness.
As gruesome as blood sacrifice was, it was necessary to highlight the seriousness of sin, to make payment for something that offends the very nature of God.
Let me say that again: our sin, our uncleanliness offends the nature of God. You see, we possess certain qualities or attributes that make us who we are, good or bad. Some people are kind, some are not. Some people are patient, some are not. And through self-improvement people can change: where some are unkind they can learn to be kinder. Where some are impatient they can learn to be more patient.
But God isn’t like that. He doesn’t just possess varying qualities, his qualities and attributes are who he is by his very nature. God didn’t learn to be good; he is perfect goodness by nature. He has no negative qualities. He is the infinite opposite of all evil, of anything bad or negative.
That’s why sin separates us from God.
Isaiah 59:2 (ESV) — 2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
The story of when I was Brand Central assistant manager and the stinky man came in…
Atonement at its core is about our need for reconciliation because sin makes us unclean before a perfect and holy God. We are by our very nature repulsive to him. Tim Keller does a good job of explaining why…
[The thing that is so strange about Old Testament worship, the tabernacle worship, is there were all of these incredible rules, without which you could not go in and worship (because if you broke any of the rules you were defiled), but they were mainly physical. The Mosaic law, for example, says you couldn’t worship if you touched anything dead. You could go worship later, but you had to be cleansed and purified.
You couldn’t go in to worship if you had any infectious skin diseases, like boils or sores or rashes. You couldn’t go in to worship if you had contact with mildew. If there was mildew found on your clothing, or in your home on the side of the wall, or if it was in the articles you cooked with, or something like that, you couldn’t go in to worship. You couldn’t go in to worship if you had any bodily discharge, diarrhea, hemorrhage, or anything like that, and, of course, there were all the unclean foods.
What was all that about? In the Old Testament, everything was about ceremonial cleanliness. You had to be utterly clean: no dirt, no discharge, no infection. You had to be utterly clean physically or you couldn’t go in to worship God. Why? It was a symbol, of course. A symbol of what? A symbol of something very important. Let’s just talk about this for a second.
Why is cleanliness so important? Why is it that if you find feces or pus on your clothes, you change? You don’t go out. What if you go in the office …? “There’s feces and pus on your clothes.” “Well yeah, but I didn’t think I had to change.” Why is it that if you’re going to any kind of important appointment you do all the mouthwash and deodorant? In fact, you go up to people you know and breathe on them and go, “Am I all right?”
Do you know why? Because you know what it’s like to have somebody standing and talking to you who smells horrible, utterly horrible. What’s the problem? Dirt, stench, body odor, feces, infections, and pus are relationally repugnant. If you’re talking with somebody who looks or smells horrible, you might smile weakly, and you’re viscerally just wanting to run away. And you do, as soon as you possibly can.
Do you see the symbolism? When we are sinful and self-centered …, how does God see that? He’s repulsed by it, just like you are repulsed by physical uncleanness. That means we do not have just one problem; we have two problems. We don’t just have subjective guilt; we have objective guilt. Sin in your life doesn’t just mean you feel guilty; it means you are guilty.
It means not only that we have to be reconciled to God, but also God has to be reconciled to us, because we’re unfit for the presence of a holy God. He is repulsed by us because of what he can see and what he can smell. It’s all spiritual, of course, but if you think there’s something wrong with God, then there’s something wrong with you, because this is the way you are when it comes to the physical uncleanness. The physical uncleanness in the Old Testament worship was trying to get across the fact that there’s a spiritual uncleanness we have to deal with.]
We all come into this world stinking to high heaven, unable to be in relationship with God. But even worse, sin makes us enemies of God. That’s right. We all enter into this world as God’s enemies.
This is hard to swallow, I know. But stay with me here. Go back to the garden. God made it all and it was good. God made us and then things were very good. Was there sin back then? No.
But God’s greatest enemy, Satan, that rebellious angel who thought he could do a better job ruling the universe than the one who created it and him, decided to hit God where it’d hurt the most. He tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against God by breaking the one rule.
In ways I don’t quite understand, their rebellion affects us. Their guilt is transferred to us. We may not like it, but it explains a lot. Like why we don’t have to teach children how to lie or not share. Like why there’s so much pain and suffering in the world.
If God’s greatest enemy is Satan, the poster boy for rebellion, and we come into this world in his power, by association we too are God’s enemies, we too are objects of his holy, fearful wrath.
Pastor Brad, how dare you! I’m not liking this message today. I have a hard enough time with my self-esteem without you crushing with me with this stuff. You sound like those old-time, Bible-thumping preachers. This is 2019. We don’t go there anymore.
I understand. I don’t like going there either. And in history past maybe preachers, maybe the church went too far in this direction. But I’m telling you the truth, getting this is necessary in getting what atonement means.
Understanding what Jesus accomplished on the cross (understanding the gospel even) is like trying to open a coconut. There’s this incredibly hard outer shell. It’s difficult to break through. But at its center is something delicious, refreshing, and nourishing. It’s worth the effort.
Understanding the crucifixion and the atonement requires us to come to terms with this incredibly hard and difficult truth: we are enemies of God and apart from his intervention objects of his wrath. But if you’ll surrender and accept that, what you find beyond it is beautiful and glorious. Because what did our definition say? Through the crucifixion Jesus lovingly accomplished atonement!
God hates sin. God’s wrath will be poured out against it. But oh how he loves you and me. God took it upon himself to make atonement for us with his very own son. His sacrifice would be once and for all. His death on the cross would cover our sin, making us not guilty. The crucifixion was God lovingly reconciling us to himself, making us no longer repulsive but wholly acceptable.
Romans 5:8–10 (ESV) — 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Colossians 1:19–21 (ESV) — 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,
2 Corinthians 5:18–21 (ESV) — 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Conclusion: All of that prepares us for receiving the full impact of a text we’ve already looked at…
Hebrews 9:11–15 (CEV) — 11 Christ came as the high priest of the good things that are now here. He also went into a much better tent that wasn’t made by humans and that doesn’t belong to this world. 12 Then Christ went once for all into the most holy place and freed us from sin forever. He did this by offering his own blood instead of the blood of goats and bulls. 13 According to the Law of Moses, those people who become unclean are not fit to worship God. Yet they will be considered clean, if they are sprinkled with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a sacrificed calf. 14 But Christ was sinless, and he offered himself as an eternal and spiritual sacrifice to God. That’s why his blood is much more powerful and makes our consciences clear. Now we can serve the living God and no longer do things that lead to death. 15 Christ died to rescue those who had sinned and broken the old agreement. Now he brings his chosen ones a new agreement with its guarantee of God’s eternal blessings!
We will close with that. But before I pray let me ask you a question?
Have you been reconciled to God? There’s only one way: by coming to him with faith and repentance through his son, Jesus.
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