The Atonement

March 25, 2001 / No. 3038

Dear radio friends,

It is at this time of year that the church remembers in a special way the awful sufferings and bitter death of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross. I would consider with you today a subject of the Scriptures which is both vast and deep, broad and expansive; a truth of the Scriptures which reaches from one end of the Bible even to the other end; a truth which is absolutely vital for your soul. It is the truth of the atonement, the atonement that Christ made on the cross.

The word “atonement” refers to a payment, a payment made to God for our sins, rendered by Jesus Christ in the sufferings that He endured upon the cross. This doctrine of the atonement is the central doctrine of the Bible. And it must be central to you. No matter how old you are, no matter how much you have advanced in learning and insight in the Christian faith, no matter the deeds that you perform, there is nothing so crucial as Christ and Him crucified. There is nothing so central as the doctrine of the atonement.

The atonement of Jesus Christ is the bulls-eye of God’s book, the Bible. You know that in an archer’s target there are a series of circles all surrounding the center, or the bulls-eye. So every truth of the Bible, all of the history, all of the precepts, doctrines, and exhortations are all arranged around this bulls-eye, namely, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. Or again, “And I saw in the midst of the throne, a Lamb that had been slain.” The message of God’s Word to you is not that you are OK. The message of God’s Word is not that you need only a spiritual overhaul, a face-lift, so to speak. The message is not that God has a wonderful plan for your life if only you …. No. That is not the message of God’s Word. The message of God’s Word is this: Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man, you have no life in you. That is, unless Christ is crucified and He makes an atonement for your sins, you have nothing – only eternal ruin.

You see, the Word of God is not, first of all, a book which addresses social issues. The Word of God is not a manual on interpersonal relationships. And it is not given to teach you a supposed victorious living. Oh yes, we glean from the Word of God how we ought to live in this world. And the Word of God will teach us in every sphere of our life how we are to live as those who hope in the Lord. But, you see, the Bible is not like the Code of Hammurabi. It is not like the Torah of Judaism. It is not like the Koran of the Muslims. It is not a book of virtue or moralistic teachings. But the central issue of the revelation of the Scriptures is: How will you stand before the living and the holy God of heaven and earth? The issue of the revelation, the Word of the almighty God, is: How shall you stand before Him?

You see, the issues of your life are sin and God, judgment and grace, God’s holiness and our guilt. The issue is: an atonement for sin in the blood of God’s Son, given of God’s love for all of His own. All who, by grace, look to this Jesus Christ and trust in His atonement shall live. And all who, in folly, reject it and embrace their own ways and sin shall perish. That is the message of God’s Word.

So today we, too, preach Christ and Him crucified. We do not, as the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 1, dabble in speculation. We do not look for signs from heaven, miraculous signs which, so to speak, prove the word that we speak. Rather we speak of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. For, God forbid that we should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The atonement that He made on the cross purged, pardoned, covered all the sins of God’s people, of those whom the Father had given to His Son out of an eternal, gracious will of election.

Now the truth of the atonement is certainly a truth, as I said, which covers all of the teachings of the Scriptures. It is found throughout the Scriptures. The Old Testament people of God were well acquainted with the truth of the atonement. You will recall that there are books of the Bible – Exodus and Leviticus – which are devoted to the whole subject of the need of sacrifice and of the fact that the people of God continually were to bring a sacrifice for their sin in order that an atonement might be made. An atonement for sin referred to a covering, or a purging, a pardon, for sin which could only be obtained in the way of the shedding of blood, of the consuming of the one who was offered. If you lived in the Old Testament it would have been unmistakable to you. You would know that the way to God was only the way of sins being placed upon a perfect sacrifice, and that this sacrifice was to be consumed in the fire of God. The only approach to God would be in a way of covering for sin – the way of an atonement.

If you could just reconstruct for one day the fabric of the system of the Old Testament, you would see how God impressed this upon the minds of His people. Whether that was in the wilderness, when the tabernacle was erected by Moses, or whether that was later on in the temple of Solomon in the city of Jerusalem, day after day, repeatedly, bloody sacrifices were brought to the temple or tabernacle. Animals were burned upon the altar. Atonement had to be made. What was God saying? He was saying this (Heb. 9:22): “Without shedding of blood is no remission.”

When we come before the truth of the atonement we are making a confession, a confession that the Holy Spirit writes upon our souls. We are making a confession of the realities of sin and the holy God. When we come to the atonement, then we understand that our great problem is our sin, our inability to remove our sin, and our deserving of punishment before God.

Do you know that reality? Are the words, “God, be merciful to me the sinner,” upon your heart? Are the words of David in Psalm 51 yours: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness”? Unless this reality, this burden of sin is brought personally to your soul, there is no point in going any further in the explanation of the doctrine of the atonement. For the atonement of Jesus Christ does not come hanging on a sky-hook, dropped out of the blue. Salvation is not simply that you just say, “Jesus.” But the atonement stands in the concrete reality of our sin, and our sin in the presence of God.

Sin is a horrible thing. Sin deserves everlasting punishment because of who God is. The God of the Bible is essentially holy and good, pure from all iniquity. So we might read in Hebrews 12, our God is a consuming fire. Or, in the vision given to Isaiah in chapter 6, that the seraphim, the angels, hide their faces before Him as they stand before the throne and cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty.” He is a God of inflexible justice. He always does the right. Exodus 34:7 – God passed before Moses and proclaimed His name, “the Lord God, merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity,” but who will, by no means clear the guilty. Under no pressure will God ever wink at sin. He is the God of absolute sovereignty (Ps. 135:6): “Our God is in the heavens; he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” And He is a God of mercy and lovingkindness. According toExodus 20 He has mercy upon thousands of them that fear Him. He is the God who says through the prophets, “I have loved you with an everlasting love and in lovingkindness have drawn you.”

If you are to understand the truth of the atonement, these truths must be written upon your heart by the Spirit of God. What truths? Two truths: your sin and the living, true God. Do you know those realities? I am not asking you if you are a theologian. I am asking you if the Holy Spirit, through the Word, has given you to understand reality – your sin and the holy God? If your God is not that God, the God of the holy Scriptures, then you serve an idol. If the God that is being taught you or preached to you is less than the holy God of holy Scriptures then, you see, the truth of the atonement will make no sense to you. If you do not know who God is, then the doctrine of the cross will suffer erosion and denial. If you make God out of the stuff of your own imaginations, if you conceive of God as an unholy glob, then all of the truth of the atonement is unexplainable to you. Why? Why does the Son of God hang upon a cross forsaken even of God? The Scriptures give the answer. See Psalm 22: “But thou art holy, thou that inhabitist the praises of Israel.” Jesus Christ was upon the cross because the just and the holy God, in mercy, would give His Son to bear the penalty that the sins of His people deserved.

The glorious truth of the atonement is that our sins were transferred to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the representative of all those who have received the abundance of grace, all those whom the Father hath given to Him.

What a glorious truth! This glorious truth was represented in the Old Testament when the priest would press down his hand upon the sacrificial animal as a sign of the transference of guilt. That is the wonderful truth of the atonement. All of our guilt and sin was transferred upon Christ. The sin, the deserving of wrath, and the punishment owed to the sins of God’s elect were placed upon the Lord Jesus Christ. This was God’s act. This was not on the basis of your act. It was God’s act. As the judge of all the earth, God’s hand pressed the sins of His elect children down upon the head and bosom of Jesus Christ. You recall that a crown of thorns was pressed upon Jesus’ head. Far above that was that the Lord Jesus Christ was made to be accursed of God for us. It was laid upon Him. God poured this upon Him. He bore the dreadful curse for our sins. The whole tremendous load of the guilt of God’s church was laid upon Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ represented that, bore that, as He died upon the cross. Oh, the joy of this! Do you know your sin? I am not asking if you admit sometimes to messing up now and then. But do you know the blackness of your own heart? Do you grieve under that sin? Or, in pride and conceit, do you downplay your sin? Do you stand offended, perhaps, before the gospel of Jesus Christ today which declares that you are a sinner deserving only of eternal destruction? Do you know your sin? If, by the Holy Spirit, you do, what a glorious truth! God, in grace, not compromising His holiness, not winking at sin, God in grace took our sins and placed them upon Jesus Christ.

It is by faith that we receive this blessing. It is by faith, in the cross, that we appropriate and know the glorious truth that an atonement has been made for our sins.

This atonement God has accepted. The sacrifice of His Son upon the cross was accepted because Jesus Christ paid it all, endured it all. We may read in Ephesians 1:6, “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” God has made us accepted in the beloved Son. In the work of His beloved Son, God was appeased, satisfied. A full payment was rendered. Jesus Christ, upon the cross, did all that was necessary to remove the burden of our sins. He suffered all that the justice of God determined. He made a perfect atonement.

The gospel declares to us today that Christ is our covering, that we need look and must not look to anything else for the forgiveness of our sins, but to Christ and His one work upon the cross. There is no other remission for sin. There is no possibility that so much as one sin can be remitted, sent away, apart from the work of God’s own Son once performed upon Calvary’s cross. The cross is our shield, our hiding place. It is the only hiding place. It is the sure hiding place for our souls.

Do not place trust in yourself. Do not look to who you are. Do not pride yourself in the thought that at least you are better than someone else. Do not look to someone else to make an atonement for you or to a priest or to some ceremony or some sacrifice that the church is performing to take away your sins. Do not look to your works, to your pedigree, to your strength, your beauty, your gifts. All of this, when it comes to taking away sin, is rubbish, absolute rubbish. It cannot remove your sin.

One thing alone takes away sin: Christ crucified, the cross. Hear Him cry from that cross: “It is finished.” He did not say, “I am finished, I’m done in.” Oh, no. He cried with a loud voice, “It is finished!” And that means that all the work of atonement, of making a payment for sin is accomplished. All the eternal wrath that our sin deserved was paid in the death of Jesus Christ.

What holds the center in your life? We must live out of the truth of the atonement. We must live under the shadow of the cross. If this truth of the atonement that we have briefly explained to you today from the holy Scriptures is not the heart and the soul of your life, then all is lost for you. This must be central in all of our thoughts and in all of living. If it is not central, if it does not live in our hearts, then all our religion is as a stinking corpse. You can call yourself a Christian and you can add, perhaps, the perfume of legalism or formalism or emotionalism or ritual. You can say, “Well, I’m a Christian and I’m better than others. I observe the outward ceremonies of the church. I went to this new church and there was this wave of emotionalism – everybody was emotional – I don’t know what it was all about, but we were all emotional. We had this good feeling about ourselves. I must be saved.” If that is the extent of your religion, then your religion is as a stinking corpse in the sight of God.

True religion is Christ and Him crucified. True religion is the bondage and burden of sin broken at the foot of the cross. All who confess this cross and this Savior and who, by the grace of God, embrace this truth of the atonement, shall never be put to shame.

Do you glory in this? Is it the heart and the center of your whole life? Does it capture everything? Does it bind fast your heart so that now, by His Spirit, you declare that you will live unto Him and not to yourself? Or does the glitter of sin and the glitter of the world capture you? The pride of life, the deceit of riches, the vanity of lust? If Christ crucified is not the center of your life, whatever else is at the center is an idol. He alone is worthy.

It is of this gospel that we testify today. It is this truth that we proclaim. It is the truth. Salvation is not found in politics. It is not found in movements. It is not found in yourself. It is found alone in Christ crucified. Nothing really changes in a man or woman’s life until the cross touches that life, exposing sin, proclaiming the holy God, and bringing the wonder of God’s grace.

Many will call this foolishness. There are, perhaps, others who have heard this gospel before and will respond by saying, “Well, who cares? What’s the big deal? Heard that before.” But to those who are saved by the mighty grace of God, this gospel is Christ, the power of God, Christ the wisdom of God. Hear the word of God: a wonder has taken place. The sins of God’s people were placed upon Jesus Christ. And on the cross He bore them all away. They are gone forever. An atonement was made for us. And it was made because God hath loved us. Now we go away from this truth with one burning question: Lord, how shall all my thoughts and words and affections, my heart and my soul, ever be able to show forth the love and the praise which is Thy due?

Let us pray.

Father, we thank Thee for the Word. We thank Thee for Him and for the precious atonement that He has made in His blood. Bless Thy Word to our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.