Atonement: An infinite God, who came to take our place.
And Moses said to Aaron, go into the altar, and offer your sin offering, and your burnt offering, and make an atonement for yourself, and for the people: and offer the offering of the people, and make an atonement for them; as the LORD commanded. (Leviticus 9:7)
Jesus demonstrated his love for us by taking on the form of man through incarnation; to be broken with us in order to establish a relationship with us and bring us redemption. He delivers us from our ruin.
Jesus knew the Mosaic law very well and he knew the law was insufficient to wash our sins away. The Mosaic Law was designed so the high priest could approach God to make amends for the sins of the people.
One key aspect of the Mosaic law was that the high priest had to first make atonement for himself before making it for the people. This was an acknowledgment of his personal imperfection. Indeed, the whole process was imperfect and only served as a pointer to the reason why God deemed the Mosaic order as insufficient to save us from our depravity.
But this is not the case with Jesus.
“For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” (Hebrews 9:24)
Jesus was sinless. He did not have to atone for his sin first, which means that instead of the blood of animals being used by the priest for atonement for themselves and the people, his sinless blood was shed that truly washes our sins away.
So, what is the atonement, and why does it matter?
Atonement is from the Hebrew word ‘kippur’ and it means to cover over, expiate or make payment – particularly for a wrongdoing. Atonement is God’s provision for a sinful, broken generation of depraved people to be redeemed. Atonement means we are justified and made fit to have relationship with God.
Atonement becomes necessary because of the fall of man. When man sinned, he became guilt-laden and estranged from God. We are on a downward spiral of death and destruction without God.
Here’s the dilemma:
On one hand, God’s holiness and justice demanded that man be punished for his sins. This means that we should share a similar fate in hell with Satan and his demons who also sinned against God. The wages of sin is death – death of the sinner! The problem of sin with it’s consequences, is so great that human imagination cannot fathom an appropriate solution for it. It is only in God’s way and on his own terms that man’s sin can be cleansed.
But on the other hand…God’s attributes of mercy, kindness, and grace desired to pardon man—to forgive our sins and restore us to favor and relationship with him.
God found a solution to this dilemma by making a provision for atonement. Under God’s law, there must be transfer of the sinner’s guilt upon an acceptable substitute who can bear the lawful punishment, so that God can express his kindness and grace to sinful men without any hindrance.
This ultimate atonement was accomplished by Jesus, the true and perfect High Priest. He was sinless. The true unblemished sacrifice that completely removes our sin.
What does this mean?
Jesus’ death on the cross means that when you turn from self, repent from your sin, and put your faith in Jesus, your sins will be vanquished. Not just forgiven—taken away! No matter how terrible your sins are, no other sacrifice is necessary for your cleansing and reconciliation with God. Being reconciled with God, you become a child of God, and have access to the unsearchable riches of Christ in this world and beyond.
That’s why the atonement matters.