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Christianity 101

Christ, the Atonement

We left the last lesson with a dilemma: how does God deal with sin, both in mercy and in justice?

It turns out that God laid groundwork for his solution in the Old Testament. One of the difficulties in reading through the Bible is Leviticus. To a young Christian it appears a series of rather boring rituals. But hidden within them, when you piece together the details, is the secret of atonement.

Atonement

Atonement means to make amends for your sins—to wipe out the penalty for them. The one consistent pattern for atonement sacrifices is this: the sacrifice must be perfect—no defects allowed. So if you had an animal in your flocks that was blemished in some way, you could not use it for an atonement sacrifice. All atonement sacrifices involved bloodshed. That would ring true with a Jew of the time—he would think of Passover. Remember that in Passover the angel of death “passed over” the houses marked with blood.

Why is this important to the Christian today? Because these Old Testament regulations give us a picture of what was to happen when Christ came. It also gives us confirmation of one very important thing: Jesus came to be the atonement sacrifice for our sins. So he had to be “unblemished” in the spiritual sense—meaning, He was without sin. Therefore, under the law of the righteous God, he could be the one who paid the penalty of our sins. But only by one method: bloodshed. Jesus is in fact our Passover lamb.

Everything about Jesus points to that one fact. But there is more than that; we need to take things in order to understand just how much of a sacrifice this truly is.

In the Beginning

Jesus—the man of Galilee, the Son of David, and all those other human titles—was God. You heard it right: Jesus of Nazareth, a man with a body just like the rest of us, was and is God in the flesh. The Bible clearly gives us detailed statements about this.

First, like God the Father, he exists before time. Indeed, he is said to be the agent of creation and the sustainer of creation. He is eternal.

Next, He was born of a virgin. If you’ve ever sung the Christmas carol “Silent Night” you might remember these words:

‘Round yon virgin mother and child,

Holy Infant so tender and mild”

That’s a reminder of the virgin birth. Why is that important? Let’s go back to Adam and Eve. The Bible clearly teaches the idea that anyone born in the usual way inherits Adam’s fallen nature. This baby is to grow and live a sinless life. That can’t be done—unless the Holy Spirit (also God) is involved in the pregnancy.

Try to catch the magnitude of the change. Being one who is equal to God, he becomes man. It would be like you volunteering to become an earthworm—so you could save the earthworms.

That’s the reason He came: to be our Savior. He preached for about three years before the Crucifixion; the record of that preaching is found in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). At the end of that preaching—and at exactly the right moment based upon the Old Testament laws—he died. He died the horrible death of one who is nailed to a cross after being beaten, and then left to die. It was considered merciful to stick a spear in someone like that. For sport, the Roman soldiers who carried out such executions would often take a large mallet and shatter the leg bones—leaving the man to hang by his hands in excruciating pain.

He died a physical death—like all of us are likely to die, and all who have gone before us. But God’s plan was not yet complete. He died on a Friday. Sunday morning, God raised him from the dead—in a physical body. “He is Risen” - the watchword of the church.

Summary

Let’s review the key points:

·         Jesus is God in the flesh—completely human, completely God.

·         He lived a sinless life, preparing him to be our atonement.

·         His purpose in coming was to save us from our sins.

·         He died on a cross—a physical death.

·         He rose from the dead by the power of God—a physical resurrection.

We list these points for a reason: they are the ones that all fraudulent versions of Christianity attack. Such attacks are called “heresies.” For your reference, we list a few here:

Jesus wasn’t really sinless—he took over someone else’s body. He was born of a virgin—the mother who followed her son to his crucifixion.

It’s really easy for Jesus to be sinless, because he’s God. So his being sinless doesn’t really count. No, he’s also completely man as well as completely God.

He didn’t really die; it was just a swoon. Tell that to his apostles; they hid in fear after they saw him die.

He wasn’t really a human; he was some sort of ghost. Ghosts don’t eat breakfast with their disciples.

There really was no resurrection; it’s all a myth. Of the twelve apostles, all but one died a violent death because of their faith in him. Men don’t die for a myth.

Jesus is really inferior to God—like an angel. No, fully God as well as fully man.

The Bridge

The matter can be reduced to a simple illustration. Suppose you wish to build a suspension bridge over a river. It’s not very much use to have a tower on one side of the river if you don’t have a tower on the other side as well. Jesus can be thought of as our bridge. On our side is human frailty and sin. On God’s side we find heaven and perfection. But which of us could bridge that gap? Only the one who was able to be completely on one side and also the other. Only one man ever fit those qualifications: Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of man and the Son of God.

Coming Again

That he has paid the price of our sins is an accomplished fact. But—if you will recall—God is still righteous. We must either take on the righteousness of Christ or try to rely on our own. God has not yet closed the books on right and wrong. Someday He will do that.

Jesus, you see, is coming back. When? No one really knows; but Jesus told us that he would come back as surprisingly as a thief in the night. Until then, we are to stay alert and follow his commands.

The facts surrounding his second coming are tantalizingly few; the theories about it many. But there are some things we do know:

·         When he returns, he will gather his followers to himself, welcoming them into the kingdom of God.

·         When he returns, he will judge all others by the things they have done.

Seems rather unfair, doesn’t it? But remember: the only way a righteous God can pardon us is because of the perfect sacrifice (“atonement”) of Jesus. He is the only way to pardon. If God dealt with us in our own righteousness alone, He would find us all sinners. The penalty for sin, as we have seen, is death. Some complain that God will forgive too few; the truth is, forgiving any of us is an extravagance that only God could possibly afford. And it cost Him the life of the Son.

Now we know what Jesus has done for us. The next question is, what should we do about it? That will have to wait for the next lesson.

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