Friday, August 7, 2020

Sacrifice for sins

1 Corinthians 15:1–8 tells us "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures". 

We understand that Christ fulfilled each of the sacrifices in the Mosaic Law when He died for us. He was at the same time a burnt offering for our acceptance (Leviticus 1:2–3), a trespass offering for our guilt (Leviticus 5:1–6), and a sin offering for our sin (Leviticus 4:2–3). And those are just three of the offerings! He was the one single sacrifice to which each of the Old Testament sacrifices looked forward.

It's not the Christ died several times, but that in His one single offering, God saw every one of those prescribed in the Old Testament.

The value of the offerings to the Old Testament saints was a forward look to Christ. The value of those offerings to the New Testament saints is a clearer picture of what God saw in that once-for-all sacrifice.

I've heard many people say that the Levitical offerings are laid out from God's point of view, but we tend to see them in reverse. We tend to see the trespass offering first, because we are troubled by our sins. Then we move onto the sin offering, as we come to understand not merely that we have sinned, but that we are sinners. We might eventually come to appreciate the peace offering as making a place for us to sit in fellowship with God. Then we begin to understand the meal offering and see that value of the One who gave Himself for us. Finally we grasp that we are accepted by God, because of Christ, our burnt offering. That's probably a little simplistic, but there's more than a grain of truth in it. I'm not sure any lesson is ever learned only once, and it seems to me like we go through these progressions over and over, perhaps moving a little deeper each time.

I was struck a few years ago by the realization that the New Testament uses remarkably consistent language to describe Christ's offering His body and His blood for us. 1 Peter 2:24 tells us that Christ bore our sins in His body. Colossians 1:20 tells us He made peace through the blood of His cross. While those are certainly summed up in a single sacrifice, they're not at all the same thing. And they're illustrated in some detail in the Leviticus 16.

Leviticus 16:7–10 gives us a summary of two goats on the Day of Atonement. One goat is offered as a sin offering, the other is sent away into the wilderness. Both goats make atonement, but they do so in  different ways.

The goat offered for a sin offering is slaughtered, and his blood is taken "inside the veil" and sprinkled on the mercy seat (Leviticus 16:15–19). That goat's blood, we are told, makes atonement for the sanctuary (Leviticus 16:16), and for the tabernacle and the altar (Leviticus 16:20).

The goat who is sent away alive is taken, and all the sins of Israel are confessed over his head, then he is led into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:20–22). That goat, too, makes atonement (Leviticus 16:10).

Both goats make atonement, but they do it differently. The one goat makes atonement with his blood, propitiating God. The other goat, by bearing away the sins of the people.

One of my favorite papers by J. N. Darby draws the distinction between those two aspects of atonement. It's one of his shortest papers, and well worth the read:  "Propitation and Substitution" (Collected Writings, Vol. 29, pp. 286–288).

We need both of these sides of atonement. If God is propitiated, but we still bear our sins, then we're still guilty before Him. If, on the other hand, our sins are borne away, but God is not propitiated, then we find ourselves not guilty, but still estranged. We need to have our sins borne away, and God on our side.

In the New Testament, we find the language of propitiation is connected with the blood of Christ, while the language of substitution is connected with His body. He made peace with the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20). He bore our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). So it's not a stretch to say the goat for a sin offering prefigures the blood of Christ, while the scapegoat prefigures His body.

This touches on the burial of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1–6). Having borne our sins in His body, He was buried. We've discussed before how "buried" in Scripture is all about hiding from view. The last time God saw our sins, they were buried out of His sight. He doesn't see them now.

Propitiation is a little harder to wrap our minds around. Substitution is particular, both in the Old Testament and the New. Aaron was to confess the sins of Israel over the head of the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:21). The Lord bore our sins (notice the plural) in His own body. Those are referring to specific sins. But there is no confession when the goat for a sin offering is slaughtered, nor when his blood is taken and sprinkled behind the veil. It's universal, as opposed to particular.

The idea is really that Christ's sacrifice has made God able to righteously act in love toward fallen men and women. Romans 3:25–26 tells us that the death of Christ allowed God to justly justify sinners. Notice it is the blood of Christ that Romans specifically references. It's worth meditating on Romans 3:25–26. Those verses give us a glimpse at God in a way we normally don't think of Him.

We see some connection with what theologians call "common grace." Common grace is the idea that God acts in grace in this life, quite apart from eternal salvation. God might well bless those who do not believe, even if those blessings are only temporal, limited to this life. Matthew 5:45 tells us that God causes the rain to fall on the unjust as well as the just. That blessing is surely limited to this life, but it's still a blessing that comes from God, and is a tangible form of His grace.  Paul's words to the men of Lystra are overflowing with this idea. He declares to them
God, who made the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and all things in them; who in the past generations suffered all the nations to go in their own ways, though indeed he did not leave himself without witness, doing good, and giving to you from heaven rain and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:14–18).
The blood of Christ, offered to God, forms the basis of God's righteously acting in grace to fallen men and women.

One last thought: J. N. Darby applies the distinction between propitiation and substitution to the Calvinist/Arminian controversy. His diagnosis is that their disagreement on the Atonement is because they each see only one part of it:

If we look at the difference of Arminian and Calvinistic preaching, we shall see the bearing of this at once. The Arminians take up Christ's dying for all, and generally they connect the bearing of sins with it; and all is confusion as to the efficacy and effectualness of Christ's bearing our sins, for they deny any special work for His people. They say, If God loved all, He cannot love some particularly; and an uncertain salvation is the result, and man often exalted. Thus the scapegoat is practically set aside.

The Calvinist holds Christ's bearing the sins of His people, so that they are effectually saved; but he sees nothing else. He will say, If Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it, there can be no real love for anything else. Thus he denies Christ's dying for all, and the distinctive character of propitiation, and the blood on the mercy-seat. He sees nothing but substitution.

"Propitiation and Substitution," Collected Writings, Vol. 29,  pp. 287–288


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Mark - keep them coming!

Just one comment. I'm not sure JND appreciates here the distinction that Calvinists have tended to make between the sufficiency and efficiency of the atonement - sufficient for all, efficient for the elect is the most common distinction - and very few limit the love of God in the way that JND suggests they do as a group. But he is right that the distinction between propitiation and substitution is very important to maintain.