The Cross/Altar of Jesus Christ, Part 2

In part 1, we established the truth that through the cross of Jesus Christ, God is speaking to the world. This second part in a four-part series will unfold what the Lord is saying through this unparalleled event.

A Picture

The prophet Isaiah writes, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isa 53:4-6).

The cross is a vivid and horrifying picture of our iniquity. We are told that He was chastened for our “well-being” (v.5b). This word means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” [1]. This line asserts the idea of substitution. The chastening of a child is for the correction of wrong done and for the future hope that their choices will be different. What would a father want more for their child than to live a peaceful, sound, and complete life? (See 1 Tim 2:1,2). This “chastening” fell upon Another, though it was to be administered in full force to us. Was it not OUR griefs (v.4a), OUR sorrows (v.4b), OUR transgressions (v.5a), OUR iniquities (v.5b), OUR going astray (v.6a), OUR turning to OUR own way (v.6b), and OUR iniquity (v.6c) that demands a recompense? And yet He steps into OUR place, receiving OUR punishment.

The Savior was “struck down” (“smitten” in v.4d) by God with our transgressions being the cause for His judgment. The word “iniquity” in v.6 is translated consistently as such in the major English translations with the exception of the NLT, which uses “sins.” This Hebrew word encompasses the idea of guilt, and the punishment that is due for being guilty.

God is righteous. No one can argue with this truth, for the basis of such an argument would need to supply a righteous standard that is greater than that of God Himself. No, God IS righteous, so we cannot presume that sins are simply passed over without Him taking notice.

Clearly, Isaiah is finding fault in those who have “gone astray” like sheep, having “turned to his own way” (v.6). Each of these descriptions point to the human propensity for selfish and sinful things. At the core, it is always a matter that originates in the heart, is fueled by our pride (ego), and seen in our daily living. Warren Wiersbe captures the thought in mind, writing “we are sinners by choice and by nature. Like sheep, we are born with a nature that prompts us to go astray; and, like sheep, we foolishly decide to go our own way. By nature, we are born children of wrath (Eph. 2:3); and by choice, we become children of disobedience (2:2)” [2]. Whether in position or practice, all men are emphatically stained with sinfulness.

This points us to an earlier truth depicted in the book of Leviticus.

In Leviticus 16, we find the requirements for Israel in offering an atonement for the sins of the people. While the whole chapter should be studied in great detail, some pertinent points in relation to the cross of Jesus Christ give us a greater comprehension of the picture that God was painting of man’s sin. In 16:2-3, we see that Aaron could not simply walk into the Holy of Holies without bringing what was required. Most significant is the bull that was needed to enter the presence of God (Lev 16:3, 6). This bull was sacrificed for the personal sins of the priest who would offer the sacrifice on behalf of the sins of the people.

This fact is reinforced in Leviticus 16:11, “Then Aaron shall offer the bull of the sin offering which is for himself and make atonement for himself and for his household, and he shall slaughter the bull of the sin offering which is for himself.” The need for Aaron’s atonement is mentioned twice in this verse, magnifying the sin of the priest and the need for atonement which would bring him back into a clean state before the Lord. While a thorough cleansing and a change of garments was also required to enter YHWH’s presence (Lev 16:4), it is the need for atonement that truly cleansed Aaron so that he could perform the necessary duties in bringing blood to the mercy seat for the atonement of the people. Sin is so thorough and so wretched that even the one serving as the intercessor, and making the offering for sins between YHWH and Israel, needed atonement.

This is not so with Jesus.

Hebrews 7:26-27 tells us that “it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (emphasis added). The sinlessness of Jesus makes Him a better priest who offers the necessary requirements for our atonement with all sufficiency.

In Leviticus 16:29 there is a direct command as to when and how this “Day of Atonement” is to be observed. What is striking is the Lord’s pronouncement that “you shall humble your souls and not do any work.” This point is not simply about rest for the individual, but signifies that any work done would be in complete contradiction to the work that was being performed on their behalf with the sacrifice of the lamb (Lev 16:9). YHWH understands man’s inherent propensity to justify himself, fix his own wrongs, and supply for his own needs. But when it comes to the matter of sin, which has greatly separated man from his Creator, God will have none of it.

The works of man are not, and never will be, sufficient to atone for his sin. Robert Lightner captures this egotistical drive, writing “man has sought to make himself acceptable to God in a thousand different ways, but it still cannot be done. The ladder of human works is well-worn but too short. No man has or ever will reach God’s presence by climbing its rungs. Every such attempt, however small or large, is evidence that the condemned sinner does not really believe he stands condemned” [3]

Did you catch that last part?

The very idea that man can reconcile his relationship to God through “trying harder” or “doing better” is a deceived admission that his condemnation before YHWH is merely partial or simply defective, rather than total, all-encompassing, and complete.

At this point we must ask, “What does atonement mean?” The word “atonement” is “kipper” in Hebrew and would be most commonly understood today in relation to the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur being the “Day of Atonement.” Kipper is used 16 times in Leviticus 16 alone. It means “1. cover over, pacify, propitiate, 2. cover over, atone for sin, 3. cover over, atone for sin and persons by legal rites” [4]. Notice that in each definition supplied, the concept of “cover over” is first, serving to remove the barrier that sin creates between God and man.
To help us understand, let’s simplify what YHWH is saying to us in the facets of the atonement:

Substitution- Something living dies in place of the guilty party.
Propitiation- The offering satisfies the demands of a holy God.
Forgiveness- The debt has been met and is no longer an issue.

The picture that God has painted before us in Scripture is that sin requires death and necessitates atonement so that man can stand in a right relationship with YHWH God. This atonement was only found in the offering of another, for man can never atone for his own sin. Only Jesus Christ, offering Himself and shedding His blood for the atonement of the sins of the world (John 1:29) upon the cross/alter at Calvary, removes the barrier of sin. Only Jesus has reconciled us to God (2 Cor 5:19-21).
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[1] Brown, Driver, Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 1022.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), p. 138.

[3] Robert P. Lightner, Christ: His Cross, His Church, His Crown (Taos, NM: Dispensational Publishing House, 2018), p. 90.

[4] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 497.

Senior Pastor of Grace Bible Church in Portage, Wisconsin.

2 Comments

  • Ken Tamashiro

    Hello Pastor Jeremy,

    May I share my views that we may have similarities and differences.

    My thinking is this,… It is true that when Adam fell in the Garden all of mankind became disfunctional in their humanity by being sinful, self centered and egotistical.

    I’m thinking in the case of Isaiah where God sends him out to regather the Jews back to himself because they fell away by following Strange and False Gods and offering their children to an alter that burned their children alive and the perversion of a False God to whom the Enemy was masqurading.

    I’m thinking God was outraged and wanted to show the Jews his anger and his compassion at the same time. His compassion for the Jews was great in the sense that he wanted them to come back into a relationship that was loving and not filled with wickedness as was in the case of following False Gods.

    I’m thinking God wanted to show that in the future He will make away for all sinners to have their sins covered because He knew they could not satisfy God with their best efforts to make what was wrong and try and make it right. Thus Gods promise to make things right for mankind was fulfilled by Christ himself by his own Sacrifice.

    The Legalist will paint a picture from a perspective that Man is so wretched and that he himself is not worthy of Salvation but demands obediance by proving Good Works that show they are a True Christian. But I see God does not see it that way but rather would like to see all his Creation as worthy of Saving without any effort on their part.

    My argument rests on this verse: John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

    Grace and Peace to You, Pastor Jeremy,
    Ken Tamashiro

    • JeremyEdmondson

      Ken,

      Thank you for your thoughts regarding this post on the atonement. I don’t know that I disagree with anything that you have written here.

      As far as the example of God’s judgment in relation to Israel and false gods, I think that there are three things to keep in mind.

      First, and I believe this to be true in all of our thinking about YHWH, we must constantly revisit and resettle our minds and hearts upon the attributes of God. Too often we get out close to the branches in our theological thinking and the fruit that we receive is either underdeveloped, digested without careful thinking, or altogether absent. Returning again and again to God’s attributes keeps the foundation firmly beneath us.

      Second, God’s judgment is never in conflict with His acts of mercy and grace. His lovingkindness is abounding, but this does not mean that the demonstrations of His wrath and conducted in such a way that His mercy becomes less than what it fully is. This particular subject of wrath, judgment, etc. returns us to the importance of thinking upon His attributes.

      Third, no one in the entire world wants us to be happy and satisfied more than God Himself. Jesus Christ is His loving display of that fact. With Him being the Creator and we being His creatures, He understands and prescribes the best possible life for us to live. This is why there are constant calls to fellowship, such as is seen in 1 John. Those who are walking in fellowship with the Father are those who are experiencing the peace and joy that come from an intimate relationship with divinity. The Church of today has suffered many substitutes to try and convey this experience that only humility before the Lord can bring. From this, I pray that we all repent.

      May the Lord continue to bless you in your studies of His glorious Truth and may He illuminate your heart again and again! Thank you for taking the time to read my post.

      Much grace to you!

      JE

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