The Psalmist wrote: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” In Genesis chapter 3 a record is given of the Fall of man. Because of Adam’s disobedience the entire human race was plunged into an estate of misery. As a result, man stands in need of a Savior from sin. Without such a Savior, he is forever lost! But how can fallen man be saved and escape punishment for his sin? Is there a way for sin to be forgiven? The answer is found in the atoning work of Christ. Ernest Kevan stated:
Atonement is one of the difficult words in Scripture. It is found chiefly in the Old Testament and stands for the idea of ‘covering’. Sin is thus said to be covered, or atoned for, by the O.T. sacrifices described in Exodus and Leviticus. These sacrifices were designed symbolically to make amends for sin, and they pointed towards the effects of the work of Christ. The claims of God’s holy Law were satisfied by the Lord Jesus Christ, first in His life of obedience, and then in His suffering of the wages of sin in His own body on the tree, and so He made an atonement for man’s sin.
Atonement is a vital doctrine of the Christian Faith. Consider the following:
Atonement Was Provided By God
The salvation of God’s people was purposed and planned by the Lord. Before there was a sin problem God had already planned our salvation (1 Peter 1:20; Acts 2:23). The hymn writer said: “O the love that drew salvation’s plan, O the grace that brought it down to man; O the mighty gulf that God did span, at Calvary.” Abraham’s word to Isaac in Genesis 22:8 was a prophetic reference to Christ. In Him, God would “provide Himself a lamb”. This provision of an atonement for sin was made by a loving God (1 John 4:9, 10). The Bible never speaks of man setting out to atone for his own sin and rebellion. He could not make amends to God, even if he desired to do so. Fallen man has no desire, no inclination to make amends for his disobedience. Note again the words of Genesis chapter 3. Who makes the first move to deal with the sin problem? Is it Adam? In the aftermath of his sin, is he found looking for God, seeking reconciliation? Not at all. God, however, came looking for Adam: “Where art thou?” The maker of reconciliation is God Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19) The death of our Lord Jesus at the Cross is the answer to the problem of sin.
Atonement Was Pictured By God
In Abel’s lamb and other sacrifices, the blood atonement of Christ was portrayed. In Israel of old, the Lord ordained certain events that serve as illustrations of what Christ would do when He came into the world. In the five books of Moses, there are many examples of sacrifices and offerings for sin. In both Exodus and Leviticus specific examples of sacrificial offerings are given. These are the Passover (Exodus 12) and the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). In Exodus 12, throughout the chapter, the use of the singular should be noted when the Passover lamb is spoken of. We read about “a lamb…the lamb…your lamb…” but never does it mention “lambs.” Why? Because there is only one atoning sacrifice for sin, the Lamb of God Himself: John 1:29. Note also the mention of the “blood” in Exodus chapter 12. It is spoken of as a “sign”, or “token” (v.13). As well as the sign of the blood, the shedding of the blood is mentioned. The lamb was slain and its blood put into a basin (v.22). The passage also refers to the striking of the blood: “…thou shalt strike it…” (v.7). It was applied to the lintel and side posts of the house (v.22). This speaks clearly of Christ our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7). Then, in Leviticus chapter 16 (the Day of Atonement), there is a beautiful picture of the atoning work of our Savior. There were two goats that constituted one sin-offering, “a” sin-offering (v.5). Carefully note that these are not two offerings, but a solitary sin-offering. There is a serious error taught by the Seventh Day Adventist Church in which they classify the two goats as two distinct offerings for sin. They claim the slain goat represents Christ, while the other — the scapegoat — is a type of Satan! At the end, the sins of believers will all be laid upon Satan. It is blasphemous to suggest such a thing. On the Cross of Calvary, our Savior did what these two goats portrayed and symbolized: He died for our sins. And in shedding His blood Christ turned away God’s wrath from us. As typified by the scapegoat, Christ took away our sins, far out of God’s sight (Psalm 85:2). God’s wrath is turned away from believing souls, because their sins have been covered. Two tremendous truths are pictured by these events:
[a] Substitution (Romans 5:6,8; 1 Peter 3:18) Christ died in our guilty room and stead. He is the great “instead-of-me” sacrifice! He died for us, and yet He died as us. Believers are reckoned as having died in Him. Christ the innocent One died for us the guilty. The hymn writer said, “He took my place and died for me, O precious Lamb of Calvary – He took my place and died for me.”
[b] Propitiation (Romans 3:25) The Greek word employed here for “propitiation” is translated “mercy-seat” in Hebrews 9:5. The “mercy-seat”, or lid to the Ark of the Covenant, which had blood sprinkled upon it by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, was literally “the propitiatory.” Christ Himself is our mercy-seat. His blood has turned away the wrath of God from those who trust in the atoning blood. Bearing our guilt and sin the Lord Jesus suffered God’s wrath in the place of His people. He fully paid the debt they owed to the broken law of God. Thus, He is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2). God may now be propitious toward guilty sinners. The publican’s prayer illustrates this (Luke 18:13). The sense of his prayer (“God be merciful to me a sinner”) was, “Be propitious” or “Be appeased.” It means, “Look upon me as when Thou lookest upon the blood.” God is favorably inclined toward those who are covered by the atoning blood of Christ.
Atonement Was Procured By God
It was procured by blood sacrifice. The atonement of the Lord Jesus is not merely potential, but actual and definite (Matthew 1:21). It was not merely a possibility of salvation that Jesus provided. His death achieved what it set out to achieve. The hymn writer said: “He died an atoning death…” (Mark 10:45). The ransom is paid and the captives will all be released! God’s people are going to be saved, because Christ died an atoning death on their behalf (Ephesians 5:25; Acts 20:28; 2 Corinthians 5:19).
In the death of the Lord Jesus there is no mere potentiality, but a definiteness of purpose and of achievement! He will sanctify and cleanse His church. He has bought her for His own possession. He will never impute her trespasses to her. This is definite atonement! He shall save His people from their sins by His precious atoning blood.
Christ has for sin atonement made, What a wonderful Savior!
We are redeemed, the price is paid, What a wonderful Savior!
I praise Him for His cleansing blood, What a wonderful Savior!
That reconciled my soul to God, What a wonderful Savior!
In these days of bloodless theology, we must continue to emphasize that there can be no salvation from sin without looking to Jesus’ blood. There is no cleansing from guilt without the application of His blood to the heart, by faith. The Bible is filled with this truth! And our worship should reflect this. We ought to place much emphasis upon the theme of the precious blood. In our preaching, the atoning blood must be uplifted and exalted: “We preach Christ crucified…” In our praying, the blood ought ever to be before our minds and hearts (Hebrews 10:19–22). In our praise, in our singing, we ought to magnify the atoning blood. Thankfully, many great gospel hymns are replete with references to the “precious blood.”
“Precious, precious blood of Jesus ever flowing free…”; What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”; “There is forgiveness God doth say, through the blood…”; “Would you be free from your burden of sin? There’s power in the blood…”; “Blessed be the fountain of blood to a world of sinners revealed…”; “Are you washed in the blood?”; “When I see the blood…”; “Jesus Thy Blood and righteousness…”
It is good to sing about this wonderful subject here on earth, since in a way we are thus “practicing for Heaven”! In glory, this is the theme of the song of the glorified. Then in the Lord’s Supper, the precious blood is ever brought to our attention. Jesus called one of the elements (the cup) “the new testament in my blood.” In this we are reminded of the great blessing referred by the Psalmist in Psalm 32:1 — Our transgression is forgiven, and our sins are covered, or literally “atoned for.”Atonement has been made. Can you rejoice in the assurance that you have a personal interest in the atoning blood?
Rev. Stephen Hamilton is the minister of Lehigh Valley FPC, Pennsylvania