God Is Closer Than You Think #9 What Is the Atonement?

by Guest Speaker J.T. Holderman

Sermon’s Purpose is Praise: The single goal of this sermon is to paint a picture of God’s loving and merciful character so that we praise and glorify Him. I want to draw our hearts to praise God this morning.

Definition of Atonement: The atonement is the means by which God redeems His people from sin. There are two major themes than saturate this doctrine:

  • Atonement is about God’s character: Our God will not simply to let us remain in sin, but instead he is a God whose love so overflows that He must redeem His people.
  • Atonement is also about our relationship with God. Because of the doctrine of the atonement we can be reunited in relationship with God, the very reason we were created.

The Sermon Map: But first let me draw you a map of where we are going. This is a complicated doctrine and I don’t want us to be confused, I want us to get it with such clarity that our heart sings praise to God! The entire Bible is a story about the atonement, how God redeems His people from Sin and grants them relationship with Him.

  • Here is the basic flow of the Bible: Good à Bad à Fix (flawed and perfect) à Good.
  • Here is the basic flow of the Bible:

Our Relationship w/ God à Sin à Atonement (flawed and perfect) à Redeemed Relationship w/ God.

I want us to think in every step this morning: “how does this call us to glorify God? Does this make me want to praise God?” The glorification, praise, worship of God is our goal this morning.

1) The Good (Relationship with God): We were created with a purpose: for relationship with God. There is a reason you breathe this morning. We were created for relationship. Adam and Eve were privileged to know God in the garden. This is The Good, the relationship with God is the good! The story of the Bible begins with the good! We see God’s character here as loving. These are our two themes and they start right at the beginning of Genesis. But the good turns from good to bad quickly:

Serious: The reason we were created is a serious matter: relationship w/ God.

a.       One rule: Told them not to eat of the tree of good and evil, serious matter, boundaries on the relationship.

b.      Rule Broken: They ate it L. They did the one thing that God commanded them not to. The one thing that would break the relationship with God, the reason they were created, they did it!

c.       Relationship with God is serious because it’s the reason for every person’s heartbeat and breath. Your heart beats because it was meant to beat for a relationship with God. Every thump thump is a cry from your being that your life is meant to be spent in relationship with God.

2) The Bad (Sin): And we see that Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God, by making themselves Lord, obeying their own commands, namely to eat from the tree. And by doing so they thrust the whole human race into a sinful reality. The good, the perfect relationship with God, because of sin, is corrupted.

A) Serious: We said our relationship with God was serious, but sin is also serious: it brings death. It has been that way since God told Adam and Eve they would die: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die (Gen. 2:17). Sin brings death because it is a serious offense to God (i.e. Rom. 5:12; 6:23). God is holy and righteous and can have no relationship with sin. Since humanity through Adam and Eve sinned everyone is therefore doomed to die, both physically and spiritually. Adam and Eve are thrust from the garden; they are thrown out of God’s presence.

B) Messy: Sin messes up the way things are supposed to be. For example Adam and Eve freak out after eating the fruit because they realize they are naked! They were fine with being naked in front of one another prior to the sin. It messed things up. God had to make clothes for them. Sin also messes up our relationship with God because He can have nothing to do with sin! And since he can have nothing to do with sin he can have nothing to do with us. His character as a holy God demands that he can’t be in relationship with Him.

Recap of Sin:

Because of sin 1) we deserve to die, 2) we deserve God’s wrath against sin, 3) we are separated from God by our sins, and 4) we are in bondage to sin.

Transition: A fix is therefore needed. God’s character demands that He do something because of His love for us. God provides a fix for our sin, a remedy. We should praise God that He is a gracious loving God! God’s character is gracious, we should be astounded and we should be driven to our knees in thanks and praise! We deserve death, but God sees us and says “I will help them.” This is the essence of God’s character, love.

3) The Fix (Atonement): Because of God’s character he provides a fix for sin, a way that sin can be removed, so that we can be in relationship with God. We call this atonement. Atonement is the means by which God redeems His people from sin. This is our topic this morning. So God gives Moses on Mt. Sinai the means by which our sins can be covered, by which they can be atoned so that we can be in relationship with Him. This means is sacrifice. Sacrifice becomes the remedy that brings us back into relationship with God. Without it we are separated from God.

A) Serious: There is an image in the Old Testament of how sin has separated us from God: The curtain. In the tent of meeting, where God resided, the curtain stood between the regular place of worship and the holy of holies where only the high priest could go once a year to make sacrificial atonement for our sins. The curtain acts as the symbol of what our sin has earned, separation from relationship with God.

…The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. (Leviticus 16:1-4)

B) Messy: Sacrificial offerings were a messy affair. It is downright disgusting. If you have ever cleaned a fish, you know your first couple of tries at gutting it are gross. The sacrifice to atone for our sins happened once a year, on the day of atonement.

And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house… He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small, and he shall bring it inside the veil and put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony, so that he does not die. And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times. (Leviticus 16:5-14)

At this point we should be asking ourselves: “Why is blood required?” Why does God choose this way to atone for the sins we have committed, to bring us back into relationship with Him? I think to put it simply, the seriousness of sin calls for blood. Blood in ancient times represented life, much the same as it does today, but there was a greater sacredness to blood that we do not share today.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. (Leviticus 17:11)

C) Necessary: In order to be in relationship with God, our sins must be covered, they must be blotted out, God does this in atonement. Our sin prevents us from knowing God. It’s devastating. But God’s character shows us that His love is greater than our sin and He has planned a way for our sins to be covered, to be atoned for. The animal that is sacrificed dies in our place, it is a substitute! In order to be in relationship with God and have our sins covered the sacrifice of atonement is necessary.

For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins… And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” (Leviticus 16:29-34)

Transition: So we see the good goes to the bad and God gives us a fix. But guess what, animal sacrifice is flawed! Why??? It doesn’t cover all the sins that we have yet to commit, it only covers those that have been committed. So under this sacrifice of atonement we have to keep resacrificing. So we need a perfect fix. We need some sacrifice that will cover all sin, past, present and future so that we can have confidence that a relationship with God will always be possible.

4) The Fix (Perfect): The fix of animal sacrifices just isn’t perfect. Instead the hope that you and I bear as Christians rests again in God’s character. God’s character is ultimately manifested in His son Jesus Christ. There is no good news without Jesus. The doctrine of the atonement is the means by which God redeems His people from sin. Jesus is the means of our perfect fix, the perfect atonement. Because of God’s love for you, He sent His son to act as the perfect sacrifice that would cover all our sin, once and for all. Jesus ultimately fulfills perfectly. Jesus is our perfect fix!!! Praise God!

A) Serious: And we see again that this sacrifice is serious. God Himself in the form of His son Jesus Christ endured death for you and for me. In the same way that an animal was used as a substitute for our sins, Jesus is our substitute. And this is serious; God died for you and for me.

B) Messy: And we see that our atonement through Jesus is messy. God sheds His own son’s blood on a Roman torture device. It is messy. If you have seen “The Passion of the Christ” you know something of the grotesque mess I am speaking about. This is the price that God goes through for you and me so that we can be redeemed, that we can be back in relationship with Him.

…not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12)

C) Necessary: We see that our relationship with God can only happen through the atonement of our sin.And that our sin can never fully be atoned for under the covenant of the Old Testament sacrificial system. God’s character demands a perfect fix. Jesus is that perfect fix. His perfect blood, his spotless life free of sin is a necessary sacrifice of substitution to give you and me a relationship with God.

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:13-15)

In Christ, we are perfectly redeemed. Every sin you have ever committed, are committing, and will ever commit are put to death and substituted for Christ’s righteousness on the cross. This is God magnifying, God glorifying, God praising news! The old covenant required that we do something to atone for our sins, the priest would offer sacrifice. But the new covenant, Jesus Himself, is someone else atoning for our sins, once and for all! Jesus abolishes the old covenant. Again this is God’s character being revealed to us. We see more and more that He longs to show us his love for us by being a merciful God that longs to bring us back into relationship with Him. This is our takeaway. The greatness of God is magnified in the doctrine of the atonement!

D) Beautiful: This is beautiful right? This is the Gospel. This is good news for you and me! We have been ransomed by God, we have been purchased by the blood of His son all for the purpose of being in relationship with Him. The primary work is not what we have done but what God has done for us!!! This is grace. This is the Gospel.

5) The Good (Redeemed Relationship): And so we are back. We have traveled the story of God’s love for us in the Bible from the good, to the bad, to the flawed fix, to the perfect fix. We are now back at the good because of Jesus. We are back in relationship with God through the blood of His son. Our sins have been atoned for. This  news calls us to glorify and praise the one who loves us as much as God.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh… (Hebrews 10:19-20)

We are back at the image of the curtain. The dividing wall between us and God. It was a physical thing in the tabernacle and temple that divided the presence of God from His people. But because of Jesus the curtain has been torn in two!!!

And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. (Mark 15:38)

We are no longer separated from God! This is the atonement. This is what God has done for you and I. This is how it is possible to have a relationship with God! Because of Jesus’ blood. It is glorious news. This is the Gospel! And this changes our lives.

Atonement Ramifications: Therefore the atonement brings five realities for you and me this morning, here at Southside:

1)      Because of the atonement, Salvation and Justification with God are possible (Gregg will speak on Justification next week). But because our sins are taken away on the cross, by faith in Jesus, we can have an eternal relationship with God. This is good news! This calls us to praise God! All your sins are taken away so you can be saved.

2)      Because of the atonement you have a redeemed relationship with God (EXPENSIVE RELATIONSHIP). You are no longer separated, he hears your prayers, he hears your needs and he longs for you to know Him. It’s beautiful. It’s like the telephone when all you knew was the postal service.

3)      Because of the atonement you are given a new identity (SELF WORTH!). You are no longer a sinner, someone who should be ashamed of everything you do. You are seen through faith in Jesus as perfect, spotless like Jesus was. God really looks down on you and sees a perfect person. He looks on you and has value for who you are because of what Christ went through for you. You have had your sinful identity substituted with Christ!

4)      Because of the atonement you are loved. We see more in the doctrine of atonement about God’s love for humanity than many other doctrines. Love is the center point of this doctrine. A love for you!

5)      Because of the atonement we can live sanctified. We are no longer in bondage to sin. We have been freed and can live for God, as He desires.

The doctrine of the atonement is deep theology, but it’s practical, it makes you a new person and reveals to you the character of a loving and merciful God.

Glorify God: So what is our take away this morning, what does this doctrine call you and I to do with our lives? To glorify God, to praise God, to worship Him! This is the point of the sermon. The story of the Bible is a story of a God for you. It’s a story that can’t simply reside in the mind, it must burst forth from us in acts of praise. Sing to God! Praise Him in your prayers! Lift His name high when you talk to friends! Your call this morning is to glorify God because of who He is and what He has done for you. He will remember your sin no more!!! This is good news. God has redeemed you. Worship Him this morning.

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