Atonement

This service utilized an order of service from the hymnal, rather than a printed order of service.

Hymns: 239, 748 (see reverse), 311ff, 401
Liturgy: Common Service with Communion (page 15)
Psalm: 78 (page 95)
Readings: Leviticus 16:11-22
Romans 3:21-25a, 27, 28
Matthew 27:45-54


2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 3;21-25a, 27, 28

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, My brother-in-law loves to go to these estate sales, so this past week while we were on vacation in the Twin Cities area, since I had never been to an estate sale before, he took me around to 4 different estate sales. It was very interesting. You go to these people’s homes and literally just about everything that these people own has been marked with a price tag. The goal of the estate sale company is to get rid of everything and sell everything at a good price to make the person the most amount of money. You walk through their home and everything has a price tag. You look for things that you want for a price you want to pay and you purchase it. Maybe I’m too cheap but we walked through 4 different homes and I didn’t find one thing that I wanted at a price I was will to pay. In order to buy something you really need those two things, right? You have to want the item and you have to have the ability to pay it.

Now, we make such payment transactions not just at a store or a market, but actually in our relationships with other people too. If you’re married you know exactly how this works. In every human relationship at some point there’s going to be a problem. Why? Because we humans are sinners and we say and do things we shouldn’t. So, in a marriage for example, a husband and a wife have a difference of opinion, emotions are getting high and there’s this temptation to say something you shouldn’t say, something uncalled for, something cruel, and let’s say the man says it. What does the wife immediately do? She suddenly puts distance in the relationship, a boundary was crossed that shouldn’t be crossed between two people who love each other, a barrier comes up, maybe she even goes to a different place. When you love something you draw near, when you dislike something you pull away. The man is stewing and upset and after a while begins to understand that what he did was wrong, that the distance in the relationship is his fault. What needs to be done? What needs to happen? I think at some point we’ve all been here.

There has to be an atonement. You have to make an atoning payment. An at-oneing payment. An atonement is paying an appropriate price to make the two one again. A price is paid that covers the crime. The price that is paid has to match the nature of the violation. So, if it’s something that was said that was wrong, the payment that has to be made is saying something like, “I’m sorry, I was wrong, I have no excuse for what I said, please forgive me.” But what if it’s more serious? What if there’s hurtful action or a hurtful behavior? If it’s an action there has to be even more than just a verbal atonement there also has to be a behavioral atonement. A change in a certain harmful or hurtful behavior. “I’m glad you’re telling me you’re sorry, but I also want to see it in your actions.”

Think about it even on a larger scale. What if you were feeding top level, highly sensitive information to terrorists who used that information to kill thousands of fellow Americans and you were caught. What’s the atoning payment going to be for the crime? What it won’t be is a verbal apology. You won’t be able to stand before the judge and say, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done it” and then go on your way. No, what’s the appropriate atoning price for treason? Life in prison? Exile? Death?

Well, let’s go further. What’s atonement price for rebelling not just against the rightful authority of your country, but against your Lord, your Master, the King of the Universe, God Himself? What’s the atonement price for saying to God with our thoughts, our words, our actions, “Yeah God, I know what you say, but I’m going to do the opposite anyway. I know I shouldn’t do this but I’m going to indulge myself anyway, I know it’s wrong to have these kinds of thoughts, but I’m going to do it anyway, I know this is wrong, but God will love me anyway.” That’s cosmic treason! That’s an insult to the holy, just Almighty God! If we want to see a traitor punished, if we want to see the criminal pay for his crime, to make atonement for his crime, then we ought to expect no less a punishment from God than eternal death. A crime against the eternal God deserves no less than an eternal atoning punishment.

The first 2 ½ chapters of Romans spell this out. God is rightfully angry. It says that God’s wrath is being revealed against all godlessness and wickedness in this world, all are under sin, no one does good, no one seeks God, no one is righteous, the whole world is held accountable to God. You, me, everyone has committed cosmic treason against THE eternal King of all. And what’s the atoning payment? A verbal apology? A behavioral change? A pledge to do better next time? That’s not going to cut it. There’s a cosmic, universal barrier between us and God.

What is going to be the appropriate atoning payment? Blood. God was teaching this already in the OT. We read it in our first lesson. You see, in the OT worship building there were two rooms: the holy place and the most holy place. These two rooms were divided by a massive curtain. The Most holy place was the place where they were to picture where God was. No one was allowed in there, in fact, if you went in there, you’d die. It showed that our sin has put up a massive, cosmic barrier between us and God. But once a year, on the Day of Atonement, a goat died for the sins of the people, it’s blood was shed and its blood was poured over the cover of the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place. Remember that the ark was a wood box covered in gold and it contained the Ten Commandments. When God looked down at his people he saw how awfully they broke his commands. But on the day of atonement blood was poured over the ark so the blood covered it, the blood changed God’s view. But could a goat’s blood really atone for all the sins of the people? No. It was just a picture. A picture of what?

It was a picture of THE atoning sacrifice. What is it that’s going to make the entire sinful mass of humanity at-one with God again? What atoning price could be paid to cover cosmic treason, rebellion and revolt against the King of the Universe? What is going to make us at-one with God again? What will bring the barrier down? Only the blood of God, only the blood of Jesus Christ. God is just, sin has to be paid, God won’t just overlook our sins, but God is also love itself. God’s justice and His mercy met on the cross of Jesus. Instead of forcing us to pay the atoning price that we could never pay for an infinity of eternities, God poured his wrath for our sins on His own Son, forsook His own Son, pushed Him away, punished Him with an infinity of eternities of hell on the cross. And what happened? That curtain in the temple was torn in two, that which separated us from God was torn down, the atonement price had been paid. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Go presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood.”

God paid the price. God made you at-one with him again. God brought you – His wayward and rebellious child – back into His family. Because of Jesus there is no separation, no barrier, no dividing wall between you and God. As the hymn puts it, “Just as I am, thy love unknown has broken every barrier down.” To buy something, to pay for something you both have the desire and have the ability to pay for it. God had both. He wanted you so much that He paid not silver or gold, but the precious blood of Jesus, to be at-one with you again. That’s what atonement means.

So what does this mean for us? Two take aways: First, what does this mean about our relationship with God? Today’s Father’s Day. We’re glad for good, faithful, loving father’s. But each of us has a reason to celebrate today whether you had a good father or a not so good one, because in God you have the ultimate Father, the Father who went to infinite lengths to make you His dear child. If that’s how much God loves you, if God is your Father, what do you have to fear or worry? He loves you that much, He will be with you care for you as His own child and finally bring you home. Second, what does this mean for our relationships with others? It means if we’ve hurt someone else in a relationship, since God has gone to infinite lengths and infinite cost to Himself to make us at-one with him again, we can repair what we broke, we can accept responsibility, verbalize an apology or change a behavior. It also means that if we’ve been hurt by someone else, if someone is in debt to us because of their hurtful actions, as people who have received the eternal benefits of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and payment for our sins, we can put the barrier down, accept the apology, forgive and restore the relationship.

The Christian faith is all about atonement. Jesus’ sacrifice of atonement has made us at-one with God now and forever. Amen.