Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Atonement: God's Act of Salvation

Romans 3:25-26 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (NIV)

The Atonement: God's Work of Salvation
In several New Testament passages we find reference to the term "atonement" (NIV) or what is also translated in older versions "propitiation".  To "propitiate" or "atone" refers to the overall work of salvation wherein the grounds for removal of God's wrath and the guilt of sin is established.  That "grounds" of course in reference to the Actor, Jesus Christ, Acting out the atonement on the cross and thus accomplishing salvation. 

Atonement is an umbrella term that is used to describe the entire and complete work of Jesus Christ.  Today I want to paint with a broad brush by giving three headings by which we can both understand and explain the atonement to other people.  Those three headings are:

1. The Actor of Atonement: The Lord Jesus Christ
2. The Act of Atonement: The Cross
3. The Accomplishment of Atonement: Both its effects and application to all who by grace through faith believe on both the Actor and the accomplishment. 

So with those three headings: Act, Actor and Accomplishment, let me show you how the New Testament is built around this term "atonement".

The Gospels reveal the Actor and Act of Atonement
The Actor of Atonement is Jesus Christ
The 89 chapters of the Four Gospels aim to portray the Actor of Atonement: The Lord Jesus Christ.  Matthew presents Jesus as the King who came to save His people.  Mark describes Him as the Suffering Servant coming to give His life a ransom for many.  Luke depicts Jesus as the perfect man who shows us who God is and what man ought to be.  John unveils the truth of God in human flesh, The Word, who came to provide eternal life to those who by grace through faith believe on Him.

The Act of Atonement is the Cross
If we were to take all of the material of the four Gospels together, we would have over 30% of it devoted to Christ's crucifixion, the 40 day period following His resurrection from the dead and His ascension. 
The events of Jesus birth (Matthew 1-3; Luke 1-2) and life and ministry (Matthew 4-26; Mark 1-14; Luke 4-22; John 1-18) occupy 33 years of time.  35 miracles, at least 5 full length sermons and some 60 or so parables all point to the time in which Jesus Christ would be crucified.

All four Gospels record the crucifixion.  We're not told its full meaning (although 109 Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled and can be used to understand its purpose).  The primary purpose of the Gospels is to record the "event" or the "act of atonement".  Four Gospels are required to depict the Act and Actor of atonement, however it will take Acts, 21 New Testament letters and Revelation to unfold what was accomplished at the cross.

Acts, The Epistles and Revelation unfold what was accomplished in the Atonement
Remember those headings: Actor, Act and Accomplishment.  The Gospels cover the first two components of the atonement, however it is here in Book of Acts. The Epistles and Revelation where we see the unfolding of the subject.

The Book of Acts: Preaching about the Atonement
The Book of Acts is full of 16 sermons preached by the Apostles (and Stephen in Acts 7) on explaining what took place on the cross.  Overwhelmingly they center on His resurrection from the dead as proof that the cross worked, that Jesus was both perfect man and fully God and that what He accomplished satisfied God.  Acts connects the life of the church to what Jesus accomplished on the cross.  However in terms of what actually took place, thats why the New Testament includes the Epistles.

The Epistles or New Testament Letters: Explaining the Atonement
Some 130 places in Paul's 13 letters (Romans to Philemon) alone contain references to the cross.  The other Epistles, referred to as the General Epistles (Hebrews - Jude) each draw their material from what was accomplished on the cross.  Just as an example, the main themes of the General Epistles  reveals what Jesus accomplished in His work of salvation:
1. Hebrews = Supreme Representation of the believer in salvation
2. James = Saving Faith results in good works
3. 1 Peter = Redemption, or purchased from the kingdom of darkness to now live in the Kingdom of Christ
4. 2 Peter = Power for living the Christian life until Christ's return
5. 1 John = Certainties of assurance of salvation
6. 2 & 3 John = Spiritual health
7. Jude = The cross provided the means for enduring in our salvation and rejecting error

Mind you these are thumbnail sketches, but the point is that it takes over 2/3 of the New Testament to unfold what took place in those 6 hours in which Jesus Christ was Acting out atonement.

Revelation: Placing the Accomplishments of the Actor and Act of atonement as basis for worship and completion of God's purposes
What would had happened if Jesus Christ had not come to provide atonement?  There would be no guarantee that God's purposes for history would come to pass, nor would the promises of God be fulfilled.  In Revelation 4&5 and 21-22, mention is made of the accomplishment of atonement.  All who by grace through faith believed on Him are described worshipping Him who is "worthy", since He gave His life for them. 

There is no doubt that what Jesus accomplished in His 1st coming - atonement, provides the basis for what He will accomplish when He comes back again - adoration of His Grace among His saints and affirming His Justice in the judgment of the world and all those who rejected the accomplishment of the atonement. 

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