.........................."We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God." - John Stott

Friday, April 30, 2010

Theology of Atonement - Part III, the Ritual

Continued from Part II - History

Three hundred sixty four days a year, the priest was present during the first three acts of a sacrifice, but began his function only after the blood was received for sprinkling. However, on the Day of Atonement, the priest performed all parts of the sacrifice. Lev. 23:27-32

In the first part of the sacrifice, the sinful worshipper brought his live, unblemished sacrifice to the elevated altar, just as our sinless Christ was raised up on the cross.

During the second part, the offensive worshipper laid his hands on the scapegoat or victim's head. This action has always been understood to be a communication between one party and another, and in this case, it was a symbolic transfer of guilt to the substitute. On the Day of Atonement, it was accompanied with the confession of sin. Lev. 16: 20-22, 2 Chr. 29:24

The third part was the killing of the animal. Only through the death of one can another live. This was also done on most days by the hand of the worshipper. Just he, who had laid his hand on the victim, could perform the slaughter. In the same way, the Lord Jesus met his violent death by the hand of the Sinners he was dying for.

The fourth part of the sacrifice involved the sprinkling of blood. This was where the priest, who had usually been standing aside as a witness, took his role. Without the priest, the sacrifice could not be offered correctly. Receiving the blood, he made it his own, and poured it on the horns, the altar's highest point, the foot of the altar and the mercy seat. The priest, in his proper vestments and sanctification, shadowed the holy righteousness of God. In stepping in at this time and accepting the blood as his own, he is portraying that what was done to the victim was supposed to have been done to him. Ex. 30:10

The fifth and final act was the burning of the victim. The first fire for Aaron's first sacrifice was a holy fire from heaven, never to be extinguished (Lev. v. 6-7). Rising to heaven with a sweet smelling savor, the burnt offering was recognized as an acceptable sacrifice. Some also surmise that the smoke is a shadow of the Holy Spirit.

But the frequency and repetition of the sacrifices reflected their inadequacy. David (Ps. 40:6 and 51:16) Asaph (Ps 50:8), Micah (6:6) and Isaiah (1:11) give clear testimony that the sacrifices were inadequate. The blood of lambs and goats could never take away the stain of moral sin or spiritual guilt.

PART IV - The New Testamaent...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Theology of Atonement - Part II, the History

History, Continued from Part I:

Fifty days later, at Mount Sinai, God gave His law as the foundation of His covenant. (Exodus chapters 19-24). The early animal sacrifices were always symbolic, and blood was always known to be sacred and necessary for atonement and forgiveness. This was true of all bloody sacrifices from the beginning, but now, with Mosaic Law, it was especially true. Burnt offerings, originally from the primeval and patriarchal age, were now joined by other forms of sacrifice. With the previous burnt offerings, the worshipper had not yet broken the Covenant God was to have with Israel, and the offering was meant to cover the general sin attached to every man. The new "sin offering" expressed that covenant WAS broken through the offense, and the offering was meant to restore relationship with God.

There are several Old Testament words for sin. The primary ones being looked at here are Chataah, Chattath, Chata, and Chet. They all refer to an offense, a sacrifice for sin, or a sin offering. Chata is a deeper word, and can also refer to the offender himself, to a habitual sin, to forfeit, repent, lead astray, condemn, bear the blame, or purify. Also used in Lev. 4:3b is the word "Ashmah," which means guiltiness, a fault, or the presentation of a sin offering. It is translated as "offend," "cause of sin," and "trespass." "Shagah," used in Lev. 4:13, means to stray, transgress, be encaptured, and is translated as to "err," "be ravished," "sin through ignorance," and "wander." "Peri Amartia" from Lev. 4:35, 5:6, and 6:17 of the Septuagint, meant "sin-offering."

These offerings were not for the sake of man or the state, but for God. (Lev. 4:1-32, 5:1-8). In addition, the law now divided sacrifices into different classes for different purposes and kept them before the eyes of Israel. God demonstrated the importance of the blood at the consecration of the priests, birth of a child, and even high festivals. (Ex. 23:14-18, 29; Lev. 1-4:1-32, 5:1-19, 6:1-37, and 16:33).

After the covenant was read and accepted by the people of Israel, it needed to be established with blood. Several bulls were killed, and their blood was sprinkled on the altar, the book of the covenant, and the people. This event was the first recorded time of blood being sprinkled directly on people, and therefore, intimates greater accountability.

Immediately after this sacrificial rite, the Lord announced that he wanted a sanctuary built and He would dwell among them. (Exodus chapters 25-30.) He gave strict directions for the building of the tabernacle and it was functionally designed for blood sacrifice. God's blueprint included the necessary furniture designed for the purification of worshippers and the killing of animals, as well as the Most Holy Place, where only the high priest could enter - carrying blood.

Later, the fact that the sanctuary furniture was sprinkled with blood during certain sacrifices reminds the Israelites that the sanctuary was an symbol for the way God inhabits His church and dwells among His people. (Lev. 16:16) It wasn't the building itself that was unworthy; the sins of the people made the sanctuary unworthy as a dwelling place for God. However, God could continue to dwell there if He beheld the blood of atonement. That the people needed the reconciliation and not the place is evidenced in the fact the ceremonies were for the transgressions of Israel (Lev. 16:16) and made atonement for the people and the priests (Lev. 16:33)

The importance of the Blood is further illustrated through the description of the Day of Atonement. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest brought the Blood of the sin offering, which had been collected in front of the people, into the Most Holy Place, where no one but himself was allowed. This illustrates that the Blood offering was for God alone, and the transaction was to take place between only God and His representative. Lev. 17:11.

ALL Bloody sacrifices were atoning. Number one, blood sacrifice was shocking in its character; satisfaction came only through a victim's death. But they also pointed out to the worshipper that he had offended God and God was forced to separate from him. God could not sacrifice His holiness for the sake of His love for the worshipper. So while estranged from God for having broken the covenant, the Israelite was very aware that not only did he have ceremonial guilt and was separated from God's presence, but that death must ensue because the wages of sin is death. The main thought under Mosaic Law was that transgressions violated the order of the universe and had to be punished. No regrets could remove the guilt, so death is the only recourse.

Interestingly, the sins that the Mosaic sacrifices atoned for were not moral sins, such as murder, adultery or idolatry, but offenses against ceremonial law and theocratic purity, including involuntary oversights and sins of ignorance. (Lev. 12:7-8, Num. 6:11). The Law was an external, arbitrary law, and external, arbitrary atonements could cover the resulting offenses to the Law. The Law and its atonement had come into being at the same time, in order to relieve the worshipper, to develop the idea of sin, and awaken consciences to the fact of sin. The same authority that instituted the ceremonial rites could cancel the offenses.

This was not mere penitence. The mediating priest and the laying of his hands on the worshipper's head indicates that the guilt was transferred vividly. The effect of the sacrifices was remission of the penalty, independent of contrition and remorse. Nor was it renewal of homage. It had nothing to do with a friendly feast, but was intended to transfer the sinner's guilt on to a victim. It was meant to prevent penalty that had been earned, and to secure remission of sin (Lev. 4:20)

Continued Part III - The Ritual


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Theology of Atonement - Part I, the History

For reasons only God fully understands, shed blood was a vitally important event throughout the Old Testament. The Blood of Atonement, and its importance are mentioned about one hundred times within the books of Law and the prophets.

What is Atonement? The Hebrew word for atonement, "Kaphar," means to cover, expiate, condone, placate, or cancel. It has been translated as "appease," "pardon," "purge," "make reconciliation," "put off," and of course, "atonement." Another word for atonement, "Kippur", means expiation and is translated, simply, "Atonement."

The primary Old Testament passages that deal with the theology of Atonement include the account of Abel in Genesis 4, the account of Noah in Genesis chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9, Abraham and Isaac in Gen. 22, Israel leaving Egypt, Exodus 12, and Mount Sinai in Exodus chapters 19-30. Leviticus 1-4:1-35 describes the rituals of atonement, and Leviticus 16: 1-33 describes the Great Day of Atonement. Other important passages include Gen. 3:15 and 30:10; Lev. 5:1-19, 6:1-37, 16: 1-34, 17:11, and 23:27-32; 2Ch. 29:24, Isa. 53, and Dan. 9:24-27.

The History:

From the first, animal sacrifices were a shadow of the Great Atonement to come. The connection between the two was very real. The Mosaic books, History, Prophets and Psalms, when discussing blood sacrifice, provide prophetic foreshadowing of the atonement the Messiah would make for us all. Beginning with Genesis 3:15, a passage describing enmity between the woman and the snake, we see the first point where we see prophecy and violence occur together.
Blood sacrifice is a clear and well-understood fact of life in the early chapters of Genesis. There is nothing in ordinary way of thinking that would lead men, back then or now, to believe that sacrifice would somehow please God more than anything else. Yet, the first act of worship recorded in the Bible, the animal sacrifice Abel offered to the Lord in Gen. 4, was said to be acceptable to God, and Able is known as the first "Believer." This first mention of sacrifice does not give the impression it was a new invention of Abel's. Shed blood was described in a way that showed it was offered by divine appointment, not just Abel's will.

Next, the Flood in Genesis chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9 was both a clear example of God's deadly judgement on sin as well as another example of the clear understanding early man had concerning sacrificial rites. At the time of Noah, the difference between clean animals and unclean animals was obviously well understood, as Noah classified them as such. In addition, Noah's first act after leaving the Ark was to offer a burnt offering to the Lord.

Bloody sacrifices maintained a conviction of man's guilt and a dependence on God's forgiving grace. They taught that reconciliation could be obtained in no other way but through God's divine justice. But they also symbolized God's mercifulness, in that an animal victim could serve as a substitute. The offending worshipper must die, without possibility of living in fellowship with God, unless a sin offering were offered which removed it. On that ground, the sinner could be restored. From the beginning, as hard as it is for modern man to understand, blood sacrifice was a gracious, God appointed ritual given as a way to reconcile with God.

In Gen. 22, Abraham and Isaac had a divine appointment on Mount Moriah. As much as Abraham grieved the task set before him, he understood that only by killing his son could he be obedient to God. This was not arbitrary. There was a deeper meaning to what was going on than just the task that sat before him. Abraham and Isaac both understood the purpose of sacrifice, as sacrifice had long been a part of their lives, as well as the truth that most men understood at that time: that the only way to be fully consecrated to God was through a death. Blessedly, Isaac's life was spared and a ram was substituted. By the ram's blood, Isaac was figuratively raised from the dead.

In chapter 12 of the book of Exodus, Israel prepares to leave Egypt. What was done for one person on Mount Moriah will now be done for a nation. So the nation of Israel, God's first born, spreads blood from a paschal lamb on its doorposts. Many people die that night, but not God's redeemed people. God had told them, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you." That night, the people of Israel learned that life is possible only with the killing of a substitute lamb and the sprinkling of that substitute's blood. The Passover night illustrates the importance of the blood to God.

Part II Continues with the History -

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What is Christian Theology?

"Christian Theology, or Dogmatics as the term is often used technically, is that branch of theological science which aims to set forth in a systematic manner the doctrines of the Christian faith.

"The term theology is derived from the Greek words theos (qeoV) and logos (logoV), and originally signified a discourse about God. The word was in use before the advent of Christ and the development of the Christian Church.

Aristotle in his Organon applied the term theology to his highest or first philosophy. The Greeks were accustomed to applying the term theologoi to their honored poets and teachers, such as Homer, Hesiod and Orpheus, "who with poetic inspiration sang of the gods and divine things."

In its most general sense, therefore, the term theology may be applied to the scientific investigation of real or supposed sacred persons, things or relations. However crude the content of these treatises may be, usage allows it to be called theology if the subject matter is concerned with that which is regarded as sacred. The term is therefore elastic and somewhat vague, and must be made more definite and specific by the use of qualifying terms as Christian or Ethnic theology.

Definitions of Christian Theology. Christian theology has been defined in various ways by the masters of this science. Perhaps none of these definitions, however, exceeds in adequacy or comprehensiveness that of William Burton Pope who defines it as "the science of God and divine things, based upon the revelation made to mankind in Jesus Christ, and variously systematized within the Christian Church."

Taken From Wesley Center for Applied Theology, H. Orton Wiley: Christian Theology, Chapter One