Some ask: "Why would you celebrate a day whe someone dies? Isn't that mean? Why does that make you want to celebrate?"
The answer is simple: Christ died so we could live! His death was the atoning sacrifice for our sins. By his death He has also brought about our Justification and Sanctification!
Well, that answer is simple, but let's unpack atonement. (In the following two posts in the coming days of this series we will unpack Justification and Sanctification as well)
To unpack Atonement (as well as Justification and Sanctification) you have to start by asking questions and seeking the answers to those questions.
First is: "What's atonement mean?"
Atonement is the act of forgiving a deserved punishment. Because we all have sinned, we deserve death (Romans 3:23; 6:23), However, our sins were atoned for, not by human effort, but by the wounds of Christ (1 Peter 2:24). The requirement for said atonement was blood of a pure sacrificial lamb or bull (Lev. 2) Which Christ became for us and he spilt his blood on our behalf. His righteousness, covered our unrighteousness, so we may be brought before God blameless and pure. (1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21)
Where did the plan of atonement originate?
The plan of atonement originated directly after the fall. In Genesis 3:15, God says to Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This is known as the first mention of the Gospel. God is talking about how Christ will come and be bruised, but will do far more damage to Satan than Satan will do to Him. God already had this sacrifice in mind in order to reduce Satan to nothing.
Why would God want to provide atonement for us?
We see the main attribute of God that pushed Him to provide the atonement in John 3:16 being Love. It says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son…” His reason for giving his son was His love. 1 John 4:8-10 also says this very thing: that is was God’s love that motivated him to sacrifice Christ on our behalf. In Leviticus 2, we see that because of God’s wrath and hatred towards sin, the sin must receive atonement. He gave the people of Israel a means of this atonement through the sacrifice of animals and using their blood to atone their sins. God’s wrath demanded payment for the sins committed, this then was the second impetus, which moved God to provide atonement. His wrath towards sin could be propitiated; this is why Christ is also called our propitiation. (1 John 2:2 ESV)
Why do we even need atonement?
Man is all together sinful. When Adam ate of the tree, he signed the death warrant of all humanity, damning us to a sinful nature from birth. (Gen. 3). Romans 3:23 states: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Psalm 14 and 53 also show the utter depravity of man, as cited from Romans 3. This sinful nature cuts us off from a perfect God, who is light and in him is no darkness, which is sin. (1 John 1:5-10). This cutting off created a void between us and God that needed to be filled, or bridged so we could again meet with our Lord. In all reality, in His perfection he could’ve walked away without caring, but in Lev. 2, he sets up a sacrificial system and a law system in which an can learn deeper how depraved they are, yet still have the atonement to bring them back to the Lord. To make an eternal atonement, Christ had to die. The perfect lamb, without blemish or spot had to suffer in order for us to live (Isaiah 53).
How could God justly put man’s sins upon an innocent victim?
This question almost assumes that Christ was forced into being the ultimate sacrifice, while in fact he was a willing vessel. Justly, for the sins to be forgiven through Christ death he had to have volunteered for this position. Had he not been willing, the atonement would never have happened. In Philippians 2:5-10, we see Christ’s humility in stepping down to this task and role. We also see in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Matthew 23, Christ wrestles with His calling, but undoubtedly bends to the will of the Father. Christ was willing to be the suffering servant that Isaiah 53 talked about. He was led before the shears and was silent, he did not speak out about them being wrong. The innocence of Christ was also key. Had he been blemished by sin, the atonement would have been meaningless, for a tainted sacrifice will not appease the wrath of God.
What qualified Christ for being such an offering?
Christ being both God and man as well as sinless qualified him as this offering. He is eternal, so His death would ring throughout eternity and his resurrected hands would be a constant reminder to God the Father of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. He was also Human, so he dealt with each and every temptation that we did, yet did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). He overcame by living life through the power of the Spirit (Matthew 3-4), which is also our example as how we should now live. He humbled Himself and was willing to be the offering which would appease the wrath of God as well as atone for our sins. (1 John 1:5-10; John 3:16, 1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 2:24)
Could anyone other than Christ have made an acceptable offering?
How do we know that Jesus was an offering that was acceptable to God?
Scripture is full of assurance that this offering was acceptable. First is the very fact that God in Matthew 27:46-47 turned his back on Christ, symbolizing Christ’s receiving of the sins of the entire world. It was such a wretched sight that God the Father had to separate Himself from seeing it! Also, after the death of Christ, in Matthew 27, we see the curtain which blocked the view of the Holy of Holies from view torn in two. This represented now that all men due to the atoning sacrifice of Christ have full access to God. Christ during his life in John 14:6 also said: “I am the way, the truth and the life no one comes to the Father accept through me”. This would give the reader the idea that Christ was and is enough. Also, we see throughout the epistles constant reassurance that Christ’s atoning death was sufficient to cover over all the sins of the world. 1 Peter 3:18 “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit,” His righteous sacrifice was sufficient! 1 John 2:2 says: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Is there any limitation concerning who may benefit from the atonement of Christ?
The answer to that truly lies in a persons view of Calvinism. The Scriptures say that it was for all the world 1 John 2:2; 1 Peter 3:18. However, there is a view that God chooses only certain people to receive this said blessing of atonement. I believe that it is for all the world as the Scriptures clearly state, yet people still choose wickedness over righteousness. We can see this perfectly within the picture of the two thieves crucified with Christ. The atonement as attainable for both, but only one chose to accept it. The other chose to spit on it. Christ’s atonement was once for all.
Can the atonement in any way be effective in human lives where the gospel is unknown?
Romans 1:18-20 says: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” The atonement can and is effective throughout the world, whether or not they’ve heard the message. However, to make things more clear to the world we live in, we as the followers of Christ are called to go and make disciples.
Christ is our atoning sacrifice...that is some encouraging stuff! No wonder we celebrate his Death! Tomorrow, we will unpack Justification and on Sunday we will unpack Sanctification...as well as the Ressurection!