For many years I struggled with the logic of the atonement. Why, exactly, does our sin require Jesus' death? On the other hand, why is Jesus' death sufficient to take away our sins? The atonement was not like a math problem, with an obvious connection. This involved issues which I did not understand. The most valuable lesson from our study of the sanctuary this week is an answer about why Jesus had to die. Why the atonement makes logical sense. Let's race into our Bible study this week and find out more!
Atonement: Purification Offering
Commentary for the November 2, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
“and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10:21-22, NIV
As human beings, we often find ourselves weighed down with burdens that we carry through life. We may have physical disabilities. We may find that we have burdens brought to us by unhealthy relationships. We may be burdened with poverty or lack of education. However, all of these burdens have remedies. Disabilities may be minimized through technology and medical intervention. Unhealthy relationships can be avoided. Poverty can be ameliorated with adequate financial support. Education is available through various schools. While none of these may be easy, they are answers to some of life’s burdens.
One burden that is not so easily resolved, though, is guilt. We incur guilt when we believe we have failed to act in accordance with a standard that we deem obligatory. When that happens, we do not find ready answers for our guilt. We may lament that we cannot go back and change the past, but we know that is not possible. Some may respond to guilt by attempting to negate or alter the standard that they transgressed. This may work in a limited sense. For instance, let’s assume a local law makes it illegal to ride a bicycle without a helmet. If we ride without a helmet, we may feel guilty for doing so. If we receive a citation for our behavior, this will no doubt add to our feelings of guilt. However, if we campaign to overturn that law and are successful, any guilt associated with our behavior may also be set aside as we are no longer in conflict with the standard.
When we are dealing with a religious standard, though, we are likely unable to simply eliminate it by lobbying to set that rule aside. This may be true for several reasons. For example, when we believe that a law is God ordained, then we effectively limit our ability to control it, as rather than originating with us, it has been imposed by a power outside our own. This also can eliminate our ability to resolve the guilt associated with transgression. In other words, by placing the standard outside our control, we place the resolution outside as well. When that happens, the only apparent resolution of the guilt dilemma may be to exit the system of control, perhaps through death.[i]
On the other hand, some feel that the only answer for the guilt in their lives is to live a life without conflict with the standards. While that may seem a worthy goal, the reality is that none of us has the ability to do that perfectly.[ii] When we fail, even only slightly, guilt has an avenue to enter our hearts and minds. For this reason, those who follow this approach to dealing with guilt tend to end up disconsolate and discouraged.
Other individuals may feel that the only way to resolve the dissonance between the rules and the realities of their own lives is to disavow any obligation to those rules or even to deny their existence. This may be because they honestly reason themselves into this position, or it may be because they have tried the previous approach and as a result of their failure to live perfectly, they give up and cease making any effort to live morally. Unfortunately, to live like that in a society that accepts the rules as obligatory can result in one being branded a sociopath in proportion to the degree in which the moral standards are abrogated. This also can result in untoward consequences, as those who tend not to feel guilt for immoral behavior may be incarcerated for aberrant behavior or even executed. We can see this throughout history in examples such as the Italian and Spanish Inquisitions or our more modern “War on Drugs,” which has resulted in the United States having the highest percentage of its population in prison than any other country in the world.[iii] When we consider the ineffectiveness of this war in that drugs continue to flow, we can perhaps understand that even with all of their modern science and technology, societies as a whole are also struggling with immorality and how to deal with it.
Perhaps one way of understanding the Bible is to see it as an attempt to deal with the problem of conflicted behavior and the guilt it produces. It takes a reasoned approach to the problem; a problem the Bible often calls “sin.”[iv] First, the Bible identifies a moral standard. We can find several examples of behavioral expectations in the Bible. Perhaps one of the best known is the Ten Commandments.[v] The response of the people was to promise compliance to all of the rules that Moses told them that God required.[vi] Of course a God such as the one of the Bible would know that their promises were doomed to failure. Nonetheless, God commended their good intentions.[vii]
Over the course of many generations and the rise and fall of kingdoms, some among the people began to realize that no one is able to attain perfect morality.[viii] This ultimately became a founding assumption of early Christianity.[ix] Consequently, once the universality of immorality was understood, dealing with the ensuing guilt became a focus of the “salvation” of Christianity. Early Christians, not distracted by esoteric theologies of prosperity or liberation as we tend to be today, proclaimed the “good news” of deliverance from the condemnation that their guilt placed upon them.[x] They acknowledged that the world had a sin problem that logically seemed to lead only to death as a resolution, but that resolution was not inevitable.[xi]
However, many today still see their deliverance from guilt as being a problem of obedience. But instead of seeing obedience as being necessary to obtain deliverance from guilt like the Israelites at Mount Sinai, they see it as being necessary to maintain their deliverance. They may feel that God is following them around, eager to toss them out “into outer darkness” if they fail to be perfectly obedient. This is only the flip side of the same coin our ancestors were unable to spend to obtain their salvation.
Perhaps it is in our nature to want to be in control. Even the Creation account acknowledges this need when man is given dominion over everything on earth.[xii] Because of this, the hardest thing we may ever do is to surrender that control. Perhaps we fear this because as mentioned earlier, some who have given up on perfect obedience have surrendered instead to immorality and licentiousness. But perhaps this depends on whom we surrender to.
If we surrender from obedience to a moral code to engage in our own selfish desires, we may feel that we have accomplished some sort of deliverance from guilt and its consequences, but in reality there has been no surrender to anything as self is as firmly in control as ever, perhaps even more so.
Instead the Bible asks that we recognize the basis of all moral authority exists outside ourselves, and as such, the solution for the guilt arising from conflict with that moral authority also comes from outside our own egos.
A fish caught fast on an angler’s hook may struggle mightily to be free of its snare, but it is maybe only the mercy and compassion of the fisherman that releases the hapless piscis. Though endowed with muscles, fins, eyes and even a brain, the fish, as we ourselves with our many gifts, must look outside itself for salvation.
This is the essence of the message of the Bible. That we must look outside of ourselves and that there is a solution to be found there. The solution is Jesus. The Bible tells us that He took all of our condemnation and therefore our guilt upon Himself that we might be free of both.[xiii] But how is this accomplished? According to Peter we need to repent and be baptized.[xiv] Repentance means we need to stop going our own way in this. Instead of walking away from God, we need to start walking toward Him. As in the case of the fish, our continued struggling to free ourselves only makes it more difficult for God to remove the hook of sin and guilt from our lives. The fish needs to relax into the hands of the Angler and trust Him to remove the hook with the least amount of damage and the greatest efficiency.
Baptism, rather than being a magical incantation is simply a public acknowledgment that we have decided to change direction. Peter states that after repentance and baptism we will receive the Holy Spirit. He does not say maybe or perhaps. To Peter it was apparently a given. Maybe even a vital necessity that God would not refuse to anyone who turns toward Him. The Spirit is the only Guide that we are told will lead us into all truth.[xv] With such a Guide, maybe we can feel comfortable to let go of directing everything ourselves and along with it letting go of our condemnation and guilt. The journey will certainly be less burdensome if we do.
[i] Ezekiel 18:20
[ii] Romans 3:23
[iii] “List of countries by incarceration rate,” www.wikipedia.org
[iv] Isaiah 1:18
[v] Exodus 20:1-17; cf. Deuteronomy 5:6-21
[vi] Exodus 24:3, 7
[vii] Deuteronomy 5:28
[viii] Isaiah 64:6; cf. Jeremiah 13:23
[ix] Romans 3:23
[x] Romans 8:1
[xi] Romans 6:23
[xii] Genesis 1:28
[xiii] Isaiah 53:5
[xiv] Acts 2:38
[xv] John 16:13
General questions from one of our viewers, how should we respond?
My main difficulty is trying to understand what "Jesus' active ministry in a heavenly sanctuary' really means. I don't understand what EXACTLY Jesus is doing all day and night. If I am to understand the sanctuary as literal, this implies that Jesus is indeed doing something. Why is it necessary for Jesus to literally 'work' -and he's supposedly been working for 150+ years- when he is able to create a universe in one thought?
Another thing I don't understand: how is what Jesus is doing in 2013 different from what he was doing in, let's say 1736 and what difference does it make for a believer in 2013 and the believer in 1736?
Some more questions to think about in this weeks study.
Did the sanctuary and its services have only an Old Testament function in setting God ever before his people or does the essential matrix of sanctuary revelation have an important role in
our lives today? In other words what is the nature of a study focused on the sanctuary theme? Is it of the nature of a museum tour, interesting, perhaps illustrative, but of no vital necessity? Or
is it of vital necessity and if so in what way?
"Atonement: Purification Offering"
November 2, 2013
2 Chronicles 33:12, 13; 2 Samuel 14:1-11; Leviticus 4:27-31; Jeremiah 17:1; Leviticus 10:16-18; Micah 7:18-20
It's been a bumpy ride for the new United States health care law, especially regarding the HealthCare.gov web page rollout. Opponents to the law want immediate answers to why the system is not working correctly. Supporters are scrambling to quickly fix the problems.
Heated exchanges have raised the temperature in Congress! For instance, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are pressuring Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to provide details on the web pages troubles.
"It is clear you and other high-ranking HHS officials either provided false testimony to Congress or did not know how badly the development of the HealthCare.gov was proceeding. Either scenario, if accurate, is inexcusable and demands accountability from your department," the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to Sebelius on Friday. "Your failure to provide Congress information that would shed additional light on these problems is a troubling indication that you are refusing to hold people accountable for this costly and failed enterprise."1
In a flurry of statements, readers of the news hear about blame, mismanagement, quick improvements, patience, delay, disaster, extend the period, penalties, transition period and signs of trouble. We certainly can conclude, regardless of our political leanings, that there is no perfect system.
In our Sabbath school lesson for this week, we continue to study God's system of fixing things. The sanctuary service offering that we focus on this lesson is the purification offering, the most critical sacrifice which points directly to the atonement of Christ on the cross of Calvary. The problem of sin in our world was remedied when Jesus shed blood for our transgressions.
Our lesson explains the method by which an Israelite in the Old Testament would bring an offering, usually a lamb without blemish, to the sanctuary. After laying hands on the innocent lamb and confessing one's sins, the offering was sacrificed. The blood was then handled very carefully since it symbolized the transfer of sin.
When the plan of salvation was rolled out, Satan did everything he could to put "glitches" in the system of rites. Though spiritual leaders through the centuries eventually lost sight of the purpose of the sanctuary and even condemned the perfect Lamb of God, we know that it has all come together perfectly. It's a plan we can count on.
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