It’s the night before Sukkot Eve (the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles). For the Leman family, Sukkot starts early. My wife has been packing all day. I’ve spent hours at the stores buying what we need for our Sukkah and for food for the first few days. The families of Tikvat David camp out for the whole week together. It is a great time of togetherness.
We just finished Yom Kippur this weekend. It was a great community experience. God is among his people. I share with you a little theology in a sermon. I think atonement (by which I mean the entire process of restoring broken humanity) is a topic understood by many on a shallow level. Many think our atonement is done, past tense. Think again . . .
Atonement, cleansing, forgiveness, expiation, propitiation, reconciliation, ransom, redemption, salvation, restoration, justification.
There are so many images for what today [Yom Kippur] means. Biblical images for atonement include:
wiping away sins
taking away sins
ransoming from sin
redeeming out of sin
forgiveness of sin
rescuing from sin
bearing our sins
becoming a curse for us
dying in our place
being brought near through the blood
being reconciled to God
Atonement is a very detailed and rich concept. There is a lot to atonement. They all assume one thing. WE ARE BROKEN.
Imagine you find a little bird with a broken wing. You decide to fix the bird. You take it onto your porch. You make a box where the bird will be safe. You bind up its wing. You bring it bread and maybe worms. You nurture the bird and it is healed.
What exactly happened in the story of the bird?
You rescued it from dangers like being eaten by a cat.
You provided a rest in which the bird could be healed.
You gave the bird things it would need like food and binding its wing.
Something had to happen that you cannot make happen–something from above–the bird’s brokenness had to heal.
Now a bird heals rather quickly. A bird with a broken wing is a simple case compared to the broken world. Yet notice something:
a) The bird could not heal without help from a higher power.
b) We can’t even heal a bird, much less the world.
We can only help an injured bird to a degree. How much do we think we can fix the world? How much do we think we can heal our broken selves? How broken are we?
Let me suggest to you that we are broken in four ways, precisely. All the images of atonement come down to four areas. We are broken in four ways and God’s plan to restore us remedies all four areas.
We had sold ourselves to the enemy.
We are injured in our essential being.
We are guilty of transgressing eternal, unchanging law.
We are estranged from our creator.
How does God remedy these four areas of brokenness? By purchasing, healing, justifying, and reconciling.
John Eldredge, in his book Epic calls it ACT II. If you think of the Larger Story of history, it begins with ACT I. ACT I is not creation, but long before.
ACT I is when God was alone in the cosmos. Yeshua described this time in John 17:24, “Father, you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
But ACT II is where things started to go wrong. In ACT II, God and the heavenly beings were alone. One of those heavenly beings chose rebellion because God allowed the choice.
The rebellion spread almost immediately to the race of men. Theologians look at this two ways:
1) You might say we were all sold as corporate humanity when the first man and woman chose sides unwittingly.
2) You might say each one of us is sold the first moment in life we join the rebellion with out own actions.
Either way you want to put it…we are sold. We belong to the Prince of the Power of the Air, the Ruler of this World, the Lord of Death.
Many of the Bible’s words about ATONEMENT have to do with purchasing us. Ransoming or redeeming means paying to take someone or something out from one status to another. A slave can be bought out of slavery or ransomed. Farm produce can be bought out of a restriction on eating it or be redeemed.
We have been in a certain state: slaves to sin, slaves to the evil one.
Probably my favorite verse in the purchasing image of atonement is
1 Corinthians 6:20
You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
When we joined the rebellion of the evil one, we were so terribly broken. Our emotions are damaged. We were made for unending joy. Do you have unending joy? You don’t because your emotions are damaged.
Our wills are corrupted, like a cancer. We were made for perfect goodness. Are you perfectly good? You don’t because your will is corrupted, infested with a cancer of death.
There are many images of healing. God will circumcise hearts. God will give a new heart, not like the old one. God will put a new spirit in us.
My favorite, though, is about Yeshua. He said:
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
We are in trouble with the law. The written decree stands against us. We are under the curse of the Torah.
We don’t like it. We protest against it. What we want is for God to change his law…make it lighter, easier. Someday we will realize: we don’t really want that.
The world cannot be good if God lowers the standard. Good is good and evil is evil. The world is broken and needs to be fixed. The Law is not broken and should not be changed.
But where does that leave us? We stand condemned.
That’s why there is the image of atonement as justifying or removing condemnation. My favorite verse in this image of atonement is:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
And we are estranged from God. He used to walk with us in the Garden. He made us to be with him and for him to be with us. Our destiny is to live with God. Our purpose is to love and be loved.
This is fundamental to who we are. It’s why we’re always needy for love. It’s why we seek out friendship. It’s why family touches us at our deepest core.
It’s also why lovelessness slays us. It’s why we hurt more over love than any other thing. Lose your fortune and you’ll be in pain. Lose love and you’ll be devastated.
Well, we’ve lost the most important love. We’ve estranged ourselves from God. And he IS love!! My favorite verse on reconciliation is:
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Let me just put all that together for you on this Yom Kippur. We’re here about ATONEMENT, but do we know what it means?
You just got the worst news of your life. You lost your job, and you were sold into slavery in a far country. Your new masters are going to pick you up soon. Not only that, but you have cancer and it is eating away at you slowly. You will suffer with it for a long time.
It gets worse: you are a criminal. You are condemned to harsh labor and even torture. As if that weren’t enough, you lost all your loved ones. They all have abandoned you. From the adorable children who melt your hearts, to your spouse who you lean on for everything in life, to your friends and family. All have abandoned you.
It’s dark outside, cold and wet.
You are alone, terribly alone.
You have no one.
You do not belong to yourself, you have been sold.
You are not free, but hunted by the law.
You are not well, but being subjected to a slowly worsening cancer that rots you from within.
And you cannot do a thing to help yourself.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
But this is Yom Kippur? This is about ATONEMENT. Can’t I get atonement?
A voice cries out:
The son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the many. . . . Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”