Tag Archives: Atonement

The Fat

All fat is the Lord’s. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood.
Leviticus 3:16b-17 (NRSV)

I am married to a fabulous cook. Anyone who has had one of Wendy’s amazing cheesecakes can attest to this. Just this past Saturday she made a Italian chicken and pasta dinner that I’m still thinking about it. When it comes to grilling, however, I am the grill master at our house. If we’re going to grill meat, then I’m in charge, from choosing the meat, to preparing it and grilling it.

I don’t claim to be great with the grill, but I’ve learned a few things along the journey. For example, if you’re going to choose a nice steak then you have to look for a cut which has good “marbling.” In other words, the fat runs throughout the lean and creates an effect that looks a bit like marble. It’s the fat throughout the meat that melts and creates a juicy steak. Fat makes it a “choice” steak.

In order for those of us in 21t century western culture to being to wrap our heads around the ancient  semitic sacrificial system, we have to understand the metaphors involved. To the Israelites, blood was synonymous with life. So when a sacrifice bled and died on the altar it was viewed a substitutionary death for the death God had prescribed to all humanity back in the Garden of Eden. That’s why Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb of God,” as His death on the cross was the substitutionary, sacrificial death for humanity – once for all.

Likewise, the fat of the sacrifice represented how good it was. Just as  a good cut of steak, marbled with fat, is known to be the best – so an animal’s fat was was made it a choice sacrifice. It was the “best.”

Today, I’m reminded of two things:

  • A sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice if it really doesn’t cost me a thing.
  • A sacrifice is giving my best, not my leftovers.

 

Sacrifice and At-one-ment

You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt-offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you.
Leviticus 1:4 (NRSV)

I have blogged through the book of Leviticus only once since starting this chapter-a-day blogging journey ten years ago. That compares to the 2-3 times I’ve blogged through most of the other books in God’s Message. The reason for this is not a mystery. Leviticus is not an easy read and it’s even more difficult for most people to understand in a 21st century western culture. And yet, it’s part of the Great Story. Without it, our understanding of the story God is telling through history is incomplete.

Leviticus is ancient legal text. It’s part of what’s known as “The Law of Moses” (a.k.a. “The Books of Law” and “The Torah”) which is the first five books of what we commonly know as the Old Testament. Leviticus is a rule book and an instruction manual for the people of Israel regarding the system of sacrifices and offerings they were to make to God. As we see in today’s opening chapter, it’s a bloody affair.

The underlying reason for this gory, intricate system of sacrifices is given. If you blink you might miss it:

“…and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you.”

The word “atonement” is not one we use much anymore. It’s a medieval word and the meaning is simple if you just break the word apart: at-one-ment. It’s to make two things one or to bring two dissonant parts into harmony.

We have to think about it in context of the story. The Great Story begins with creation, and with God placing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve disobey God. They committed a sin by knowingly doing what they had been commanded not to do. God banishes them from the Garden. They are told that the punishment for their sin was that they would be separated from God and they would have to die a physical death. The punishment of sin was death.

In the Book of Leviticus, God is providing a prescriptive remedy for this situation. The appropriate animal, without defect, sacrificed on the altar would make temporary at-one-ment for that person and God. The person bringing the animal would place their hand on the animal and the animal became a substitutionary, sacrificial death for their sin. The death sentence God place on all of us in the Garden of Eden was transferred to the sacrifice.

This is a foreshadowing of the story. Leviticus sets the theme. The temporary sacrifices which the people of Israel made over and over again would one day be replaced by a permanent solution. The sacrifice of God’s own Son. The Lamb of God, without defect, sacrificed once for all.

This morning I’m thinking about foreshadows. I’m thinking how glad I am to have been born in the 20th century A.D. and not the 20th century B.C. I’m thinking about the long list of my own sins and acts of willful disobedience. I’m thinking about the physical death that I will eventually experience. I’m thinking about the nagging sense of loneliness, confusion, and spiritual isolation I felt before experiencing at-one-ment when I entered into relationship with Jesus and followed.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

featured photo: Mate Marschalko via Flickr

I am Achan

And Achan answered Joshua, “It is true; I am the one who sinned against the Lord God of Israel. This is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them and took them. They now lie hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
Joshua 7:20-21 (NRSV)

The story of Achan is fascinating. God miraculously delivers the city of Jericho to Joshua and his big band of trumpet players. The walls of the city come tumbling down and the nation of Israel plunders the city with one simple rule: don’t take any of the pagan idols or things used in the worship of the idols and false gods of the people of Jericho. Does this remind you of anything? (Hint: “You can eat of any tree of the garden except for that one in the middle.”)

Sure enough, a man name Achan takes some forbidden spoil for himself in direct disobedience to the order (that would be calls sin) and then hides it by burying it in his tent (that would be called shame). God clues Joshua in that someone has disobeyed and, eventually, Achan is confronted and confesses his sin. Achan and his entire family are stoned to death to rid the nation of sin (that would be called a “scapegoat”).

When I was younger, I always saw the story of Achan from the idealistic view of the majority. “Achan, how could you ruin it for the whole nation? Dude, you knew the rules! How simple was it just to do the right thing? What an idiot!

As I have progressed in my life journey I have increasingly come to terms with a simple fact: I am Achan. I am the child who, at the age of five, stole all the envelopes with money in them off my grandparent’s Christmas tree and buried them in my suitcase. I am the one who is guilty of lying, and cheating, and stealing, and breaking my word, and being disobedient to God and my loved ones. Not just once, mind you, but over and over and over again. If I point the finger at Achan, there are three pointing back at me.

In the context of the Great Story, Achan serves as a thematic waypoint. Achan hearkens us back to Eden and reminds us that the problem of sin has not been dealt with.  Achan reminds us, in the moment, of one of the meta-themes of God’s great story: one little sin taints the whole. As Jesus put it, one smidgen of yeast affects the whole loaf. Achan reflects our fallen human nature’s penchant to blame one for the failure of the whole, and a Cubs fan need only to hear the name Bartman to realize that human nature has not changed across time. Finally, the story of Achan is a foreshadow of the solution God will provide when He will send His one and only Son to be the One who will die the death that idol stealing and  Christmas money stealing criminals deserve. Jesus will be the sacrificial lamb and make atonement for the whole.

This morning I am once again humbled by an honest reflection of my own shortcomings. I am thinking about Achan and accepting that I am him. Throw the rocks, man. I deserve it. I am once again grateful for that which we have just celebrated: God becoming man to die for my sin, to take my shame on His shoulders, and then to rise from the grave to give grace, hope, forgiveness, and redemption to one such as me.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

Marriage as Metaphor

Michael Buesking illustrates another prophet, Hosea, whose adulterous marriage became a word picture of God's relationship with His people. Buesking's artwork can be found by clicking on the image or at prophetasartist.com
Michael Buesking illustrates another prophet, Hosea, whose adulterous marriage became a word picture of God’s relationship with His people. Buesking’s artwork can be found by clicking on the image or at prophetasartist.com

“Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.” Ezekiel 16:8 (NIV)

Across all human relationships, the marital relationship is unique in many respects. Two people choose to enter into a covenant relationship with one another, to be exclusively faithful and more completely intimate with that person than with any other. Marriage is the closest thing we have on Earth to embody the relationship God desires to have with each of us, and God uses the marriage relationship over and over again to embody the intimate relationship He desires to have with each of us.

In today’s chapter, God once again instructs Ezekiel to use marriage as a metaphor describing God’s relationship with the people of Israel. He uses imagery around the marital traditions of that day. God chooses Israel as His bride and enters into a marriage covenant, but Israel commits adultery by chasing after other lovers in the form of the many gods and idols that were popular in that culture.

God makes it prophetically clear that He will not ignore the unfaithfulness of His bride. There will be disgrace and consequences in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Yet, in the end of the chapter God makes it clear that He will continue to honor His covenant; There will be a remnant who will survive and return to Jerusalem. God says he will make atonement for the adulterous sins committed; He will send His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for sin, once for all.

Today I am struck that God, through Ezekiel, has been speaking the same message in many different metaphors and word pictures. I find that in the human experience not everyone “gets” a message the same way. Some people connect with one medium, some with another. A word picture may be profoundly revelatory to one person while another person remains blind to the message. Across the book of Ezekiel I am impressed at how God is desperately trying to get through to His people, His spouse. He keeps trying to get through.

Contrition

Close up of an 17th-century depiction of the 2...
Close up of an 17th-century depiction of the 28 articles of the Augsburg Confession by Wenceslas Hollar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 1 Kings 21:27 (NIV)

For over 20 years I have been training and coaching people in the art of delivering customer service. In that time, I have found that there is no more contentious and divisive service skill than the simple apology. I increasingly find that individuals struggle with saying a simple, “I’m sorry that happened,” even when saying it as a representative of a business and there is no interpersonal relationship between customer and representative. I also find it common for clients to exchange the word “unfortunately” for any form of “sorry” or “apologize.” I find this fascinating.

The root word of “unfortunately” is “fortune” which is synonymous with “luck.” When saying, “Unfortunately, you don’t have a receipt with you,” it’s like saying “It’s bad luck that you don’t have a receipt with you.” It acknowledges the other’s stinky situation, but does nothing to express any kind of personal empathy. It avoids having any personal skin in the game like the statement “I am sorry, but you don’t have a receipt,” or “I apologize, but without a receipt your options are limited.”

We don’t talk much, at least in the protestant circles in which I run, about contrition anymore. Contrition is the act of being sorrowful or remorseful about the ways you’ve blown it and the things you’ve done (or should have done but didn’t). In culture, and in media, it seems to me that we commonly find individuals who stonewall, obfuscate, deny, and deceive in order to escape taking responsibility for their inappropriate or damaging words or actions. As I write this, we are nearing an election day. One need only turn on the television to be bombarded by every politician with the same message: “I’m all good and am going to make your life rosy. My opponent is all bad and is going to ruin your life. Here are some gross misrepresentations of truth to deceive you into believing it.”

It’s interesting to note that when Jesus addressed potential followers, the call to following and believing were regularly predicated by an act of contrition. “Deny yourself,” “Take up your cross,” “Repent,” and “Sell all you have,” were prerequisites Jesus placed to faith and belief. Sincere contrition is a gateway to spiritual reconciliation, as we see in the example of Ahab in today’s chapter. By acknowledging our impotence, God’s power is loosened in our lives. By accepting our need, God’s sufficiency is quickened to provide. With the honest confession of our failures, God successfully showers us with grace through the blood of Jesus which was sacrificially poured out to atone for them.

Paying the Price (or Not)

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” 2 Samuel 24:24 (NIV)

It was almost cliche. It was the first weekend that my sister and I, as teenagers, had been left alone in the house. My parents headed to Le Mars to spend the weekend with Grandpa Vander Well. I was fourteen. My sister was sixteen. We were given the standard parental instructions not to have anyone over, to keep the house clean while they were gone, yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah.

We invited a few people over. I honestly remember it only being a few people. Nevertheless, word spread that there was a party at the Vander Wells, whose parents were out of town. Somehow, the kids kept coming that night. At one point I remember hiding in the laundry room because of the chaos outside. I’m not sure when I realized that things were out of hand. Perhaps it was when members of the football team began seeing who could successfully jump from the roof of our house onto the roof of the detached garage.

This, of course, was the pre-cell phone era. News took longer to travel. The parents got home on Sunday evening. The house was picked up and spotless. We thought we’d gotten away with it. I’m not sure which neighbor ratted us out, but on Monday morning Jody and I were quickly tried in the kitchen tribunal and found guilty as charged. I could have made a defense that it was Jody’s idea and the crowd was mostly older kids who Jody knew. I could have pled the defense of Tim and Terry never getting in trouble for the parties that they had when the rest of us were gone. Forget it. I knew it was useless.

We were grounded for a week. I didn’t argue. I didn’t complain. I didn’t whine. I was guilty and I knew it. I gladly paid the price for my sin.

I was struck by David’s response to Arauna, who offered to give David everything he needed to atone for his mistake. David understood the spiritual principle that the price has to be paid for your mistake. David had blown it and he deserved to pay the price of the sacrifice. I had blown it and knew I had to do a week in the 3107 Madison penitentiary as a price for my infraction.

I think most all of us know when we blow it, whether we wish to admit it or not. I think most all of us understand that we deserve to pay the price for our mistakes. What is difficult is to accept that Jesus paid the price for us. That’s what the cross is about. When we arrive at the metaphorical threshing floor seeking to make some sacrifice to atone for what we’ve done, Jesus says “I’ve already paid the price. I’ve already made the sacrifice, once and for all. The only thing you have to do is accept it.

For many of us, the spiritual economics of this make no sense. We want to pay the price for our sin. We need to pay the price for our sin. We can’t believe that our guilty conscience can be absolved in any other way that for us to personally pay the price and feel the pain. So, we self flagellate. We become Robert Di Nero in The Mission (watch move clip at the top of this post), dragging a heavy sack of armor up some rocky cliff because we simply cannot believe that forgiveness can be found by any other means than personally paying the price.

How ironic that, for some of us, the obstacle to believing in Jesus is simply accepting and allowing Him to have paid the price for us.

Today, I’m thinking about the things I do out of guilt for what I’ve done, rather than gratitude for what Jesus did for me when He paid the price and made the sacrifice I deserved to make.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Chapter-a-Day Mark 15

This is a diagram of the Biblical tabernacle o...
Image via Wikipedia

And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Mark 15:38 (NLT)

For those unfamiliar with the larger story of God’s Message, this obscure reference in the middle of today’s chapter makes little sense. When God gave Moses the blueprints for the Temple back in the book of Exodus, it included an inner room that was blocked off by a huge curtain. It was behind that curtain that God’s presence resided and it was considered so holy that only the high priest could go behind the curtain, and he could only do it once a year to make atonement for the sins of the people. The word picture was obvious and powerful. There was a separation between God and man and no man could stand before God in His holiness.

When Jesus died, that curtain was mysteriously and miraculously torn in two. Once again, the word picture is both obvious and powerful. With the death of Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God, the penalty for sin was paid once for all. There was no longer any separation between man and God – not because of anything man did to earn God’s favor, but because of what God did to pay the penalty of humanity’s flaws.

Today, as I look forward to Christmas, I’m thankful for God who sent his Son. A baby, born in the most humble of circumstances, who would eventually give Himself up to a cruel death to make a way for me to enter through the curtain of eternity.