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Archive for sacrifice

Propitiation: The Final Forever Sacrifice

October 21, 2015

Paul’s instruction for us to look not upon “things that are seen” but rather upon “things that are not seen” has been the anchor truth for many of the glimpses I have received into God’s grace. How can one actually see things that are not seeable? Jesus said, “Let those who have eyes to see, see.” It is obvious that He was not speaking of physical eyesight. There is one invisible truth that, in this writer’s mind, stands above all others. It has everything to do with the interesting words found in Exodus 25:40. God told Moses to make sure that he built the tabernacle according to the special pattern that had been given to him on the mountain (Sinai). Why was this the case?

A very familiar and dramatic moment in ancient Israel was when the high priest entered a small room in the tabernacle called the Holy of Holies. He did this once every year carrying blood to sprinkle on the solid gold plate on top which was called “the mercy seat” (Heb. 9:7). Under the mercy seat inside the ark were three seemingly insignificant articles: a pot containing fragments of manna, Aaron’s rod that had budded, and shards of broken tablets of the Ten Commandments. These objects represented Israel’s rebellion against God. Shortly after the Exodus, the Jews revolted against God’s provision of food (the manna), against God’s leadership (the rod), and against God’s law (the Ten Commandments). The people had sinned against God.

Replicas of two cherubim were positioned at either end of the ark representing God’s righteousness and His justice. They symbolically looked down upon the mercy seat and at the objects revealing the sin. The wages of sin before a holy God was death. But the blood carried by the high priest was spread upon the mercy seat, satisfying God’s righteous demand against the sin of the people for one year. It is very important to realize that the High Priest entered that little room alone, out of all human sight. (Heb. 9:7).

Enter Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, who appeared in the presence of God in heaven, far away from the probing eyes of all human creation. Christ came as High Priest of a tabernacle not made with human hands (Heb. 9:11-12). This was the real tabernacle in heaven from which the earthly pattern was taken (Ex. 25:40). It was into this heavenly tabernacle that Christ entered the Most Holy Place once for all, obtaining eternal redemption.

Christ never once entered the physical earthly tabernacle made with hands, but He went into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us. After He made one (heavenly) sacrifice for sins, forever, He sat down at the right hand of the Father. It is from this vantage point that He is waiting for His enemies to become His footstool.

It is fascinating that at the foot of the cross upon Mt. Calvary many eyes were looking intently at a man dying there. It is here that Paul’s unseen truth comes into crystal clear focus. In heaven, out of the sight of any human eye, our High Priest was Himself becoming sin for us. He was performing His work before the real mercy seat of God. The word that sums this all up is the word propitiation. It means “satisfactory sacrifice.” Jesus Christ and His heavenly service was indeed the final forever sacrifice for our sin. What can we add to that?

For a more detailed look at Propitiation, go to the article on our web page.

Thinking out of the Box

November 15, 2011

A seminary professor often said that if we are going to make an impact with the Word of God, we must allow the Spirit of God to move us to think outside the box.  He did not mean that we should think beyond what is written in Scripture but that we should seek through observation and meditation to fully grasp the truth that is revealed from what is written.

I would like to take such a step while thinking of God’s perfect creation and the fall of man.  What we learn about the sinfulness of our sin has tremendous bearing on what we eventually believe about His immeasurable grace. Let’s begin, well, at the beginning.  Believers should recognize that the God who created us became our Savior.  The one who saves us, the Lord Jesus Christ, has all the attributes of deity.  He is eternal, co-existent with God, and co-equal with God, just to name a few.  A life-changing, out-of-the-box glimpse of the miraculous God that we serve is the realization that the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the very one who created us. The Bible says that all things were made by Him (John 1:3); by Him were all things created (Colossians 1:16); and God made the worlds by Him (Hebrews 1:2).

Since all things means all things, the words, “In the beginning God created” take on a fresh new meaning.  These words imply that the first works of creation recorded in the Bible – the heavens, the earth, the light, the plants and animals – were accomplished with the direct involvement of the Lord Jesus Christ. It follows, then, that He was also involved in the creation of Adam.

Now we are walking freely out of the box. God’s words, “Let Us make man in our image, according to Our likeness” has enormous implications. Catch this glimpse! The “Us” points to our Trinitarian God’s participation in creating man and in particular the involvement of the Creator of all things, the Lord Jesus Christ. It has been assumed by many that when God said, “Let Us make man in our image, according to our likeness,” He was speaking of the invisible likeness of personality. This is because the Bible makes clear that God is spirit, and spirits have no visible characteristics.  While likeness could very well point to unseen spiritual traits, image does make one think of a physical feature. It is possible that the second person of the Trinity appeared in a recognizable preincarnate form in the Old Testament.

Although Jehovah took upon Himself a human body in Bethlehem, that may not have been the first time that He revealed Himself in a recognizable form. Think of the first wedding – when Jehovah walked Eve down the isle to the man, so to speak.  We read that God fashioned Adam’s rib into a woman and “He brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:22). Is it possible that Adam saw a preincarnate form of the Creator? It is hard to imagine a disembodied spirit presenting a woman to a man.

Following their rebellion against God by eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve heard the sound of Jehovah God walking in the garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Adam heard someone walking! It is difficult to conceive that a spirit could make walking noises as he approached. The guilt of the fallen couple impelled them to hide from God among the trees in the garden. How could one hope to hide from a spirit?

The first visible act of God in providing grace is recorded for us. Adam and Eve had compensated for their new feeling of guilt before God by stitching for themselves designer clothes made of fig leaves (Genesis 2:7). Their clothing did not meet with God’s approval, however, so He made tunics of skin, and clothed them (Genesis 3:21). Again, it is difficult to imagine a spirit stitching clothes and then putting them on someone.

What conclusions can we draw from God’s work as a tailor? First it was an obvious contrast to the couple’s tailor work. Second, it was God who initiated the gracious act. The couple was not asked whether or not they desired the clothes.  Finally, it was God who did the work.  He obviously killed animals – and this was long before the Mosaic Law was given. The picture given the reader is the very first foreshadowing of God’s future work in Jesus Christ.

Now back to the subject of Jesus Christ being the Creator of all things.  The Bible says that Jehovah Elohim formed man from the dust of the ground and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).  There may have been more to this creative act than meets the human eye. God created us as triune beings made of body, soul, and spirit (1Thessalonians 5:23).

God first created the visible part. One can just visualize the Lord Jesus Christ hovering over a large lump of clay like a potter would do and then reaching down and picking up slabs and shaping it. Slowly the clay began to take the shape of man. Then we picture the divine Potter creating the inward, invisible parts, leaning down and exhaling His breath into the nostrils of that clay form. At that moment, Adam awakened as a conscious being.  The lifeless lump of clay received life from God.

Again, out of the box we go! What is the true meaning of the English translation the “breath of life” in Genesis 2:7?  The original text of the Old Testament is the Hebrew language. The Hebrew manuscripts are those writings that are truly God breathed and totally inerrant. While it is true that the translators rendered the phrase “breath of life,” and surely they had reasons to do so, the literal Hebrew says that God breathed into the man the “breath of lives,” plural.

“Breath of lives” in the Hebrew is nephesh chayyim. Chayyim is a plural Hebrew word. In order to make a word plural in English, we simply add and “s” or an “es.” At the risk of sounding exceedingly simple, we could have one pear or two pears; one house or two houses. In order to make a Hebrew word plural, “im” is added. One might think of one cherub (angelic being) or two cherubim (two angelic beings), or one seraph (one angelic being) or two seraphim (two angelic beings).  You get the idea. God actually breathed into Adam the breath of lives.

In contrast, God had earlier created the animals giving to them nephesh chay, the breath of life (Genesis 1:21).  This is the major way that animals differ from humans. True to our triune nature, Jesus Christ created Adam with a body and then breathed into him a soul with an attached human spirit.  The animals do not have this human spirit. The words soul and spirit are often used interchangeably in the scripture, but there is a difference. The writer of Hebrews says that the word of God is living and powerful and sharp enough even to divide the soul from the spirit (Hebrews 4:12). This implies that they are not the same!

Allow me a little speculation. The soul connects human beings to the earth, giving them the ability to know, to feel, and to choose, in the earthly realm. It provides the appetites for securing food, shelter, protection, and the desire to procreate. In man the soul also had the human spirit attached to it. Adam’s soul connected him to the earthy realm, but his human spirit linked him to God.

Before the fall, Adam had ability and the desire to think and to reason accurately, not only about worldly things but also about heavenly things. Said simply, human beings were created to know God. Their living human spirits gave them the ability to appreciate their relationship with God and to choose to continue in it. With this knowledge, Adam understood the reason for God’s creation and in his innocence he knew that he was created to have dominion over the earth.

After his sin – as God had warned – he died! He did not fall over dead physically, but his human spirit died toward God. He no longer had the ability to use his mind, emotion, or will toward God. As a result of their spiritual death, the fallen couple hid themselves from God. The residue left upon them was still the image of godlikeness, but it was a defective image. Adam and Eve continued with their human appetites in tact and their intelligence – the ability to think and to reason, to feel and to choose in a limited earthy realm – but still far beyond that of the animals. Adam and Eve had become natural, soulish human beings. This is the very nature that this fallen couple passed to all generations of the human race (Romans 5:12). All sinned and died in Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22).

We are all born with Adam’s death image upon us. The fallen race has the desire to worship gods, but they worship gods coming from their own corrupt imagination. Paul wrote that the soulish person “cannot understand the things of God (human ability) neither can he know them (human ability) for they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  In clothing the first couple with the animal skins, God established a prototype. If we want to know how God saves today it would not be a bad idea to go back to His original pattern.

God must initiate salvation. The spiritually dead can do nothing to help.  He does not clothe us with animal skins as an act of His saving grace, but He does clothe us. He clothes us with His special sacrifice. The fall did not catch God by surprise. He prepared a Lamb before He created the world (1 Peter 1:20). He eventually gave that Lamb to die on a Roman cross for us, and then He raised Him from the dead (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 4:25).  He lovingly calls us to Himself as a shepherd does his sheep and gives us the free gift of faith to place in His Lamb (John 6:37-39; John 10:28; Ephesians 2:8-9). He then wraps tightly those believing in His Lamb with the covering of the Lamb. Every believer is said to be “in Christ” (Galatians 3:26-28).  This is thinking out of the box.

The Value of the Cross

January 15, 2011

One of the most used words by Christians – those with a Calvinistic view, those with an Armenian view and those everywhere in between – is the Old Testament word atonement. Why not? It is a strong Bible word.  Atonement is first used in Exodus. “They shall eat those things with which the atonement was made, to consecrate and to sanctify them; but an outsider shall not eat them, because they are holy” (Exodus 29:33). It is last used in Ezekiel 45:20. “And so you shall do on the seventh day of the month for everyone who has sinned unintentionally or in ignorance. Thus you shall make atonement for the temple.”

In my mind, the most important word translated atonement is the Hebrew word “kaphar.” It means simply “to cover.” It is found first in Genesis 6:14 to describe the work of the tar or pitch used between the boards of Noah’s ark to cover and waterproof the boat. No matter how many times it was used and in whatever version it is found, its basic meaning is “to cover or to hide.”

This word permeates the entire Old Testament sacrificial system. The blood of all of the sacrificial animals shed by the sinner, or by the priest on behalf of the sinner, was done in order to symbolically hide the consequences of the sin from the eyes of a holy God. Its primary use culminated with God establishing the holiest day of all to the Jews, the Day of Atonement, or “Yom Kippur.” This special day is mentioned first in Leviticus 23:26-28. Once a year God commanded that the high priest take blood from a kid goat into the holiest part of the tabernacle or the temple. There he would sprinkle the blood upon the mercy seat on top of the ark of the covenant. The blood symbolically came between the judgmental eyes of God represented by two replicas of cherubim located at each end of the ark. They were looking down upon that which was beneath the gold mercy seat.  There rested three items: the broken tablets of the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod that had sprouted buds, and a pot filled with manna. These articles represented Israel’s rebellion against God’s law, His order, and His amazing provision. Together they revealed the depth of Israel’s sin against God.

The blood came between the eyes of the cherubim and the sin of the people. The blood symbolically hid the consequences of sin (death) from the eyes of God. Thus, the blood became the “atonement” for sin before God. The blood never satisfied the just demands of a holy God on behalf of the people. It merely revealed that such satisfaction was necessary. It became a temporary shadow indicting that God was going to deal with the sin of man by the shedding of blood.

Hebrews 10:1-5 says clearly:

For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.

So, what is the value of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross? Two schools of thought have emerged among serious Bible students. Both groups teach that God used Christ’s death on the cross as the atonement for sin. Then what remains is to decide what the extent of that atonement is. Did Christ’s death provide atonement for the entire sin debt of Adam’s race, or did Jesus’ death just atone for the sins of the elect, His beloved sheep? Was Christ’s blood shed for all men, even those whom God created, knowing that they would reject His Son, or was Christ’s blood shed for those whom God has chosen even before He created this world.

I believe that God did not use Christ’s death to be an atonement for sin at all. His death did not merely temporarily cover sin, nor was it to foreshadow anything. His death actually paid sin’s price in full, and it is an eternal payment. The author of Hebrews says that if any Old Testament sacrifice actually satisfied God, then the worshipers, those who were making the offerings, would have no more consciousness of guilt before God. The writer goes on to say that when Jesus came into the world He said that God did not desire the sacrifices or the offerings but that God had prepared a body for Him (Jesus). It would be the sacrifice of His body as the Lamb of God that would actually take away sin, not merely cover it (Hebrews 10:5-10).

The entire sacrificial system made clear God’s just demand against sin but the cross work of Jesus Christ met the demand. God had determined before He created this world that He was going to die in order to pay our sin debt. But God is eternal life and eternal life cannot die. So, amazingly, God took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ in order to die in our place. As a man, He suffered the death of the cross becoming the Lamb of God (Philippians 2:7).

People saved in the Old Testament were given divine insight into the real meaning of the myriads of sacrifices and the shedding of their blood. God opened the eyes of their heart look beyond that which was seen and believe that He was going to pay their debt in ful. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, but the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

In a strange way all Old Testament saints were saved on credit with the bill finally coming due and being paid in full on the cross of Calvary. So, technically speaking, Christ’s death was not an atonement at all but a propitiation. The word propitiation (Greek, “hislesterion”) means “satisfactory sacrifice.” Like atonement, propitiation is a Bible word that for the most part is seldom used. It is applied to Jesus Christ as our faithful High Priest making propitiation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).

It is true that the word “mercy seat,” in Hebrews 9:5 is the word that is often translated “propitiation,” but it points directly to the finished work of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:11-15). It clearly connects the dots, so to speak. Christ – unlike all of the Old Testament sacrifices – offered one sacrifice for sin forever (Hebrews 10:11-12).

The word propitiation, not atonement, explains the value of Calvary’s cross. Therefore, the issue concerning the worth of Christ’s death on the cross should not be “limited or unlimited atonement,” but “limited or unlimited propitiation.” But there can be no such thing as an unlimited propitiation. Since Christ’s death – unlike the sacrifices in the Old Testament – actually takes away the consciousness of guilt before God, then it has to be limited to all those who are to trust the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.  People do not go to hell with God permanently freeing them from the guilt of their sin. That would be ludicrous! Propitiation explains clearly that Jesus Christ died to really satisfy His Father’s demand against sin and it will accomplish His purpose of saving those who trust in Jesus Christ alone. Christ’s shed blood has immeasurable worth. His blood does not simply give members of this fallen race a chance to be saved but actually saves those who believe (Hebrews 10:13).

Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26)

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)